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Current Anthropology





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The policies and politics around the repatriation of ancestral human remains and biological materials to Native North Americans and other indigenous peoples have largely been rooted in attempts to reconcile divergent worldviews about cultural heritage. Even though repatriation has been a legal and practical reality for over 2 decades, controversies between anthropological scientists and repatriation proponents still often dominate professional and scholarly discourses over the fate of Native American human remains and associated artifacts. The epistemological gap between Western scientific and indigenous or Native American perspectives—however crucial to bridge in the process of consultation and achieving mutual agreements—is likely to remain. Moreover, although it is a productive legal, sociopolitical, and cultural strategy for many indigenous groups, repatriation as practiced still struggles to fundamentally transform anthropology’s relationship to indigenous peoples, at least in the United States. In this article I will explore new theoretical foundations for repatriation and “repatriatables” that bring Western and physical anthropological conceptions into greater symmetry with indigenous perspectives regarding the active social power and potential subjectivities of skeletal and material cultural remains.

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