JUNEAU (AP) -- A citizens committee overseeing the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act wants the law's administration taken away from the National Park Service because the agency holds many of the human remains it governs.
At its meeting in Juneau this week, the committee recommended the law's administration be placed directly under the Secretary of the Interior.
The 1990 law requires federal agencies and museums that receive federal funds to inventory their collections of Native human remains and cultural objects, consult with Native groups, and return the items if asked to. It also applies to items excavated on federal and tribal lands after late 1990, when the law went into effect.
The Park Service holds thousands of Native remains and objects and is subject to the law, and it also administers and enforces the law. That's a conflict, some Natives and committee members said.
''The Park Service manages lands that cradle the bodies of our relatives,'' said Pemina Yellow Bird, who represents the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nations of North Dakota. ''They cannot do so impartially.''
John Robbins, the National Park Service official assigned to the committee, declined to comment.
The concern cropped up last year, and the Interior Department recently moved the law's administration from the Park Service's consulting archaeologist to Robbins, the agency's assistant director of cultural resources, stewardship and partnerships.
But committee members aren't satisfied. The panel appointed by the Interior secretary monitors the inventorying and identification process, makes nonbinding findings on the identity and return of items, and hears disputes among tribes, agencies or museums.
Fueling the concern was a recent decision by a Park Service regional office not to follow a committee recommendation on a dispute among two tribes and the Chaco Culture National Historic Park in New Mexico.
''It's very dangerous they've done that, and it's going to set a precedent,'' said interim committee chairman Armand Minthorn, a trustee of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Pendleton, Ore.
The Park Service also is slow to publish required notices of intent to repatriate items in the Federal Register, Minthorn said. Delays have forced tribes to wait two or three years for repatriation, he said.
The committee also is concerned about a backlog of inventorying, especially among federal agencies, and is asking Congress to provide more funds for that and for grants to help tribes and museums through the process.
The law required every collection to complete its inventory by 1995, but that may take decades for some federal agencies, outgoing committee chairman Sullivan said.
The committee also wants the Interior Department to collect civil fines from institutions that break the law, and use that money to enforce the law. So far, there have been no fines since they went into effect in 1997, said C. Timothy McKeown, a Park Service staffer to the committee.
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