We hope you and your families and communities are doing well. We are pleased to announce Issue 2 has been reviewed and is now complete! Distribution is always up to community co-authors; for this issue they have determined they will share their story with community members only. A part of this issue included some information about the NAGPRA law itself - much like Issue 1 explained the lines of evidence. We thought this might be useful for those who are learning or teaching about the law:
Here is an update for one of the cases included in NAGPRA Comics 1: Journeys to Complete the Work... And changing the way we bring Native American ancestors home. Due to community activism and support from organizations like the Association of American Indian Affairs (see their letter to Harvard on Feb 18, 2021 here), Harvard has reversed it's stance on returning traveling items (funerary objects) with culturally unidentified Native ancestors.
A Reckoning on Native American Remains and Cultural Objects
Full article from March 30,2021 by Stephanie Mitchell at The Harvard Gazette here.
Philip Deloria, Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History, chair of the NAGPRA Advisory Committee, and past chair of the Repatriation Committee at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, in an interview:
"GAZETTE: The University has admitted past missteps concerning burial belongings. What were those and how are they being made right?
DELORIA: It centers around unidentified human remains and the return of funerary objects associated with those remains. Those are burial belongings, which are interred with an individual and are associated with that specific person. Under new NAGPRA regulations in 2010, these objects were recommended but not required to be returned when a museum repatriated unidentified human remains.
This is really a “spirit of the law/letter of the law” issue. The Peabody here was following the letter of the law, but it wasn’t following the spirit. The museum did indeed refuse to voluntarily return these belongings to tribal nations. And the tribes called Harvard out on it.
But when the new Museum Director Jane Pickering and Dean Gay constituted a Peabody NAGPRA Advisory committee in May 2020, the very first item on our agenda was this very issue. We agreed that retaining those funerary objects was not the right decision, and we have been making every effort to repair that mistake. Despite statements to the contrary, we had a proposal for a policy change ready in December and approved in early February to allow for the return of associated funerary objects. We’re currently planning outreach to previously affected tribes right now to reopen consultation on these burial belongings."
Another NAGPRA issue is in the works!
Stay tuned! While COVID-19 slowed down some of our plans for last year, NAGPRA Comics is happy to report that we just restarted working on a new issue at the invitation of a Native Nation about the return of sacred items. Our planning and production meetings resumed via video calls in February of 2021 and we are enjoying working on a new repatriation story. Each issue is created through a different process, depending on what is appropriate for the specific community. We look forward to sharing more with you about this unique process and comic in the future!
Thanks to those who contributed to the Survey!
We sent a survey to our listserve of about 50 people. Fifteen people responded and provided very helpful feedback (that is a 30% response rate, which is typical for surveys). Thanks so much for taking the time to share your experiences and thoughts with us. Some interesting things we learned about NAGPRA Comics Issue 1: it is being taught in classes, a variety of people are reading it, and even better news--people are learning about repatriation through schools, museums, friends, and the news!
Comments about NAGPRA Comics from the Survey
We asked, What stands out to you as particularly memorable from reading the comic? Here are some selections:
* The drawings--they make (sometimes complex) concepts easier to understand and though they are cartoons, they still represent a sensitive topic in a respectful way. I liked that.
* The explanation of the process was very clear and didn't get too deep into the many complexities. It's a good beginner read, especially for people who may be skeptical about NAGPRA at first. The artwork was also very conducive to the content!
* The case study around the topic of "cultural affiliation" well-illustrates the complexity of the issue and the sensitive nature of proving or demonstrating links between descendant communities and material culture.
* As a NAGPRA coordinator for a university, I find the comic extremely helpful. I have shared it with students and administrators, as well as other faculty and staff. It provides an entry point into NAGPRA that is not a long, peer-reviewed article or a news article about fines and citations that often portrays indigenous views as anti-science. In particular, as I am non-Native, at at university in the South, it is helpful to point to these views in the comic, such as those on pdf page 9, in discussions with administrators and other people I have to convince to do NAGPRA work. (Doing so allows me to protect the views that consulting tribes have shared with me; and is much more eloquent and appropriate than my own words or paraphrases.)
Additional Comments included:
* This comic book is a wonderful way for me to demonstrate the intricacies and structural violence underlying the relationship of Indigenous communities to the US Federal government and the disciplines of anthropology and archaeology--thank you.
* I think more comics, with more examples of interactions between communities, cultural institutions, and their advocates/allies, would be great! I think they are important as examples of how comics can be used in education and outreach.
* I can’t wait for more content to be produced!!! Keep up the good work.
We feel the same! And we are working on new issues as the (pandemic) circumstances allow. We thank you for your enthusiasm and support, it means a lot. Best wishes to you, your families, and your communities.
Jen, Sonya, & John
Would you like to contribute to the survey?
The NAGPRA Comics survey will remain open - you are welcome to take it!
Click here to take the survey.
Would you like to learn more about how the first NAGPRA Issue was created? And some behind the scenes information about how it was made? These stories are included in a 2019 article published by the journal American Anthropologist.
The American Anthropologist journal invited us to submit our Ethno/GRAPHIC panel presentations from 2017 at the American Anthropological Association meetings to be featured in their print journal and also in the journal's online "multimodal" section. This was a wonderful turn of events - the discipline of anthropology is fully embracing new ways of communicating our research and community partnerships to the public. This panel, titled "Ethno/Graphic Storytelling: Communicating research through graphic novels and animation" included faculty and students from across the country, all of whom present their work in this article.
The print journal is behind a paywall (article available here), and includes an introduction to all the projects and individual introductions to each project, including NAGPRA Comics (see below). The "multimodal" online section is open for anyone to view, and includes the entire NAGPRA Comics Issue 1! The link is below the NAGPRA Comics introduction from the print journal.
COMPLETING THE JOURNEY: A GRAPHIC NARRATIVE ABOUT NAGPRA AND REPATRIATION
By Sonya Atalay and Jen Shannon
American Anthropologist 121: 769-772 (doi:10.1111/aman.13293).
"NAGPRA Comics, Vol. 1: Journeys to Complete the Work: Stories about Repatriations and Changing the Way We Bring Native American Ancestors Home (2017) is a coauthored comic book by archaeologist Sonya Atalay (Anishinabe‐Ojibwe), museum anthropologist Jen Shannon, and archaeologist and comic artist John Swogger in collaboration with the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways. This comic book—the first in the NAGPRA Comics series—is based on our research, scholarly commitments, and practical experience implementing the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA). As an applied comic, Journeys to Complete the Work is both a scholarly resource and a call to action. It aims to empower Native communities by informing them about their rights under NAGPRA and to educate Native and non‐Native communities about the law—its benefits and its shortfalls (Swogger 2017).
Graphic narratives are a vernacular and popular form, which allows us to use a direct vocabulary and avoid sanitized legal language for concepts relating to the unsettling history and reality of burials, bones, and digging up graves. In 2012, it was estimated that there were 300,000 to 600,000 Native American bodies in US university, museum, and laboratory collections that were subject to NAGPRA (McKeown 2013, 10). While we may slip into using NAGPRA legal terms like “culturally unidentifiable individuals” and “associated funerary objects,” we are talking about Native ancestors—bodies that were dug up from burials, burials that reflect spiritual care for individuals and the items buried with them that were intended for traveling with the ancestors on their journey. Repatriation is a part of completing this interrupted journey."
The article continues online here:
We were invited by Mike Towry, a founder of San Diego Comic Con, to participate in a panel titled "Recovering Indigenous History through Comics." The panel was on July 18, Thursday evening at 530pm. There were about 170 people in attendance. During the discussion by Kumeyaay panelists of Kumeyaay history and correcting the public's knowledge about it, Kumeyaay historian Mike Connolly was asked up to the panel to contribute to the conversation. It was a wonderful experience learning from everyone on the panel and in the audience, and we look forward to seeing the development of the panelists' projects!
Panel description: "This year is the 500th anniversary of Spain's conquest of Mexico and the 250th anniversary of San Diego's founding. Since those events, and others related and similar, were near-apocalyptic for the indigenous peoples of North America, it's an appropriate time to reflect on their histories and how they experienced these events. Unfortunately, indigenous history in North America has often been distorted, ignored, or even lost. Can comics be a tool to help recover this history? Moderator Johnny Bear Contreras (Kumeyaay artist/sculptor and fellow panelists Paul Guinan (Aztec Empire graphic novel), Elijah Benson (Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation Education Department, NAGPRA comics), Stan Rodriguez (Kumeyaay cultural leader), Jen Shannon (cultural anthropology professor, NAGPRA comics), Kate Spilde (cultural anthropology professor), John Swogger (archaeologist and Illustrator, NAGPRA comics) will answer this question and discuss their current comic projects to recover indigenous history."
You can find out more here.
John and Jen just finished up a wonderful two weeks visiting with community members at MHA Nation in central North Dakota. As part of our community-based work, John led a series of five comics workshops -- two with local schools in Mandaree and New Town, one with the Tribal Department of Education, another at the Northern Lights Community Center, and a final one at the North Dakota State Historical Society.
It was a lot of fun working with everyone, from first graders to high schoolers to elders! We greatly appreciated the assistance of the Tribal Education Department in scheduling and advertising the workshops. Participants produced comics on their own, and in groups - about anything and everything! From basketball to round dance to cat stories, from reaching for a degree to reaching for the stars...
We also produced a Guide to Facilitating Comics Workshops based on John's workshops - that way community members can lead their own workshops, or individuals can work on the drawing exercises at home. We produced two versions of the Guide, a PDF and also a Word document, so people can modify the guide to suit their needs... and have some fun!
Since the success of our first NAGPRA Comics issue launched in 2017, we have started working on a couple more. This website will provide access to the comics, news about the projects and collaborative work that goes into making them, and announcements when a new comic is available. Please don't hesitate to contact us with questions. We so appreciate the community members who work with us to make these comics happen, and we are excited to bring their stories to you.
Jen, Sonya, and John