Protecting the Past: Finding Common Ground in the Native American Repatriation Movement


  • Lora Starr Tulane University


Maria Pearson began her career in Native American Rights Activism in the 1970’s when she encountered flawed grave protection legislation in Iowa. She worked for the equal treatment of Native American and Euro-American remains, and fought for the repatriation of Native American bones and artifacts. Her efforts led to the passage of a new piece of grave protection legislation in Iowa, the first of its kind at the state level, and then further culminated in the historic passage of the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). This case begins with an examination of the colonial history that led to the necessity as well as controversy surrounding repatriation, then explores both the perspective of Native American communities and archaeological communities in regards to burial protection, and finally recounts Pearson’s personal efforts and journey striving for legislation. This case demonstrates that a dialogue can be created between two opposing groups and compromise can be made even when building upon a complicated history. Though the process of creating new legislation is never perfect, and will never please all parties involved, in the case of Native American and archaeological communities, NAGPRA has been an important step towards improvement in the handling of Native American remains and artifacts.