The Repatriation Files is comprised of a series of conversations about the ethical responsibility we all share in making sure the past is not forgotten and that our ancestors are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. At its deepest level, repatriation is about coming home.
In 1990, however, the word gained new significance with the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Known in US Civil Code as 25 U.S.C. 3001 et seq., this legislation “provide[s] for the protection of Native American graves.” It does so by mandating the timely and proper return of human remains to their homeland. The law goes further. It requires that care also be taken with things that are considered part of a Native community’s cultural patrimony: “which shall mean an object having ongoing historical, traditional, or cultural importance central to the Native American group or culture itself.”
In the following posts, I share my travels to archives around the country, where I work to “repatriate” indigenous texts and objects and discuss their meanings with members of the Native communities where they originated.
I am teacher and scholar of Native American literature at the University of Iowa. I have been working to repatriate American Indian, Native Hawaiian, and First Nations books and manuscripts for 15 years. My most recent book, Removable Type: Histories of the Book in Indian Country (University of North Carolina Press, 2010) was honored with the James Russell Lowell Prize by the Modern Language Association. Much of my research during the past two years has been supported by a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship.