Congressman Todd Rokita released the following statement after releasing his bill that enhances penalties under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA):
"No one is above the law, especially researchers and professors who rely on federal funding," said Congressman Todd Rokita. "I have introduced legislation that would hold liberal academics accountable to tribes when they violate federal laws pertaining to Native American graves and funerary objects. It is imperative that we respect the rich history of the Native American culture, which is uniquely American, and give tribes and their deceased the respect they deserve."
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of the Interior fined the Hamilton County Parks Department for NAGPRA violations. This law was originally created to protect Native American remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and other cultural patrimony. In an Indianapolis Star series, reporters found that archaeologists from Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne excavated thousands of items from former tribal sites at Strawtown Koteewi Park, including artifacts and human remains without properly notifying tribal leaders, per federal statute.
The bill would increase penalties for NAGPRA violation and move the enforcement from U.S. Fish and Wildlife to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. With the support of tribes, the bill was introduced with 4 original cosponsors: Rep. Tom Cole [OK-04], Rep. Don Young [AK], Rep. Betty McCollum [MN-04], and Rep. Gwen Moore [WI-04].