Commentary on Dr. Patricia Capone: "Post-NAGPRA: Ethics for New Ideas/ New Relationships/ Future Leaders"

Speaker: Dr. Patricia Capone- Curator and Reparations Coordinator, Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology, Harvard University
Title: Post-NAGPRA: Ethics for New Ideas/ New Relationships/ Future Leaders
Commentary by: Rachel Dudek, graduate student in the Seton Hall M.A. in Museum  Professions program; IME travel stipend recipient.

Dr. Patricia Capone is Curator and Repatriation Coordinator, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University has a background in historical archaeology and researches indigenous cultures, particularly those from Southwest and North East United States.

The topic she discussed at the Inaugural Conference of the Institute of Museum Ethics was Post-NAGPRA: Ethics for New Ideas/New Relationships/Future Leaders. Capone was the only speaker to focus on repatriation. Her talk reflected on her own experiences at the Peabody and provided insight on how repatriation has affected museums. Capone focused on the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990. Capone discussed how this legislation has oriented museums in society. Historically museums have represented colonial imbalance through their interpretation of objects created by indigenous cultures. These material objects are our connection to the past, and the display of these objects are portrayed reflects current ideas, and possible misconceptions, of the past. This is especially prevalent when a colonizing culture exhibits objects from a culture it has colonized. NAGPRA and other legislation has called attention to these injustices, leading the way for an ethical shift towards equal protection of all cultures and their sacred objects though barriers still remain.

The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology has 1.5 million objects that are affected by NAGPRA. This legislation has led the Museum to reassess the collection and find new understandings of the collection and its past, which has led to the revision of the museum’s mission. The Museum has tried to establish intercultural respect and understanding through its collection and affiliated programs. Its staff has worked with neighboring tribes and communities to understand the complex history of the Harvard Indian College founded in 1655, and located in what is now Harvard Yard. Campus Archaeology is a three semester course at Harvard intended to raise awareness of the intersection between Harvard history and Native American education. Students in this program dig at the Harvard Yard to collect artifacts at a yard associated with the Indian College, while reflecting on the shared past.

Capone demonstrates that legal mandates, such as NAGPRA, can create relationships of trust which are ripe for collaborative projects in which new models of leadership emerge and new learning occurs.


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