Florida Institutions Among Worst in Nation to Return Stolen Indian Remains, Report Says | Tampa Bay News | tampa

Click to enlarge An exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History shows an interpretation of the Calusa Native Americans.  - Florida Museum of Natural History/Facebook

Florida Museum of Natural History/Facebook

An exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History shows an interpretation of the Calusa Native Americans.

Universities, museums and government organizations in Florida are really bad at returning remains from Native American graves to the tribes they rightfully belong to, a new report shows.

Yesterday, ProPublica released an interactive report highlighting universities and government institutions across the country that are hoarding the remains of indigenous people, along with other sacred objects from graves.

According to the data in the report, of the 50 states, Florida is one of the worst.

Florida institutions have only returned 20% of the approximately 7,500 stolen remains. In all, only 736 native remains have been returned to the tribes. Only 12 other states have returned a smaller percentage than the Sunshine State. However, Florida has far more Indian remains in storage than several of the other states mentioned in the report.

For example, Delaware has not returned any of his remains, but the state only has an estimated total of seven, in contrast to the thousands held in institutions in Florida.

Most of Florida’s stolen native remains reside at the Gainesville Museum of Natural History, which is operated by the University of Florida (UF). 2,589 remains are being held there, while only 372 have been returned. The Florida Department of State comes in second, with 1,426 remains and only returning 79.

In the Tampa Bay area, the University of South Florida has removed 142 remains and has so far returned 100. And the Sarasota County History Center has not returned any of its 93 remains.

See also  Only Gear Fans Know About These 10 Obscure Japanese Cars

ProPublica lists other Florida institutions that did not return remains, including 508 held by Florida State University and 160 held by the Miami Museum of History.

The report also said that the actual amount of accumulated remains is likely to be higher than the estimated numbers, because universities sometimes underreport all they have, and sometimes forget to count some stored remains.

Native remains are sacred and are supposed to be protected by the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which was enacted in 1990 after decades of rampant grave looting.

However, institutions across the country have found a way to circumvent the law through a loophole. According to NAGPRA, if a remnant is deemed “culturally unidentifiable,” the institution may retain it, because it can state that it is technically unknown to which tribe the remnant belongs.

But native activists and tribal representatives have long contested this notion.

Sheridan Murphy of the Florida Indian Alliance told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that the term “culturally unidentifiable” is used to prevent and fight the repatriation of stolen items.

He said the UF Museum of Natural History considers many of the items it owns to be from the “pre-Seminole” era. But traditional leaders of the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes have long argued that they are descendants of those earlier people, and that the remains should be returned to them.

“Thieves used language to hold on to their loot, nothing more, nothing less,” Murphy said.

Murphy added that some museums have complied with NAGPRA when pressured by native groups, such as the Founders Museum in Barre, Massachusetts. Last year, the museum repatriated items from the Battle of Wounded Knee. But the process was onerous for tribal governments and native communities.

See also  New Movies In Theaters: Bandit, Don't Worry Darling « Celebrity Gossip & Movie News

The Founder’s museum had 150 items from Lakota tribesmen killed at Wounded Knee, and it was a nearly 30-year process to repatriate the items.

“The burden of proof in the NAGPRA process falls not on the museums that have the stolen property or bodies, but on the indigenous nations from whom the items were stolen,” Murphy said.

CL has reached out to several of the Florida institutions listed in the report, including UF, USF and the Florida Department of State, but has yet to receive a response for this story.

Aside from the normalized hoarding of remains by powerful institutions, there are also grave robbers selling artifacts on the black market.

In 2021, CL reported that Native American burial mounds within the USF Forest Reserve in Hillsborough County were being robbed. The university says it is now keeping a closer eye on the area, but local natives say there needs to be more security to protect the graves.

Leave a Comment