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Last week, The Crimson reported on the effects of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act at Harvard. The University's Peabody Museum now has to catalog approximately eight million objects at a total cost estimated at several million dollars. The task might seem burdensome and tedious, but we think it is time--and money--well spent.
Unlike the artifacts of many other civilizations, many of the Native American objects belong to societies whose members live on today. No descendants of the Mayans could complain or demand restitution when explorers destroyed their temples at the beginning of this century, nor do many Babylonians boycott the Louvre. But native Americans have a legitimate right to take back burial objects and human remains stolen from their tribes, though the exact circumstances of the relics' procurement are often nebulous.
It is for this reason that the cataloguing must continue, and at a rapid pace. The sooner the items can be returned or at least accounted for the closer a longstanding wrong against America's native peoples will come to being righted.
If scholars want to continue to study the artifacts, they will have to do so with the permission of the artifacts' rightful owners. Hopefully, the process of repatriation of objects and remains will contribute to an ongoing dialog between the tribes and the academics who wish to study the natives' ancestors. After all, no better source of knowledge about the artifacts can exist than the direct descendants of their owners.
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