Cultural Appropriation at Effigy Mounds National Monument


While reading about cultural appropriation this week, I was reminded of a big story in the Park Service last year regarding “missing” native remains at Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa. It turns out the prehistoric remains affiliated with many modern day Indigenous tribes were not really missing, but stolen in 1990 … by the park’s superintendent. Just before NAGPRA went into effect in 1990, the superintendent at the time stole and hid all the native remains from the park’s museum in his garage because he didn’t want to repatriate the funerary objects that they were buried with. Perhaps the most ridiculous part is that no one found out until 2016!

This account and the readings for this week had me thinking about how Indigenous people are represented at National Parks. Effigy Mounds is a sacred place to the 20 Americans tribes that are associated with the site, yet the park is run by the government rather than returned to the tribes. Other parks may not be sacred sites, but still tell stories of Indigenous tribes (or perhaps leave this history out). Is there a “correct” way for the NPS to depict native cultures? Should they hire Indigenous rangers as stewards and guides? Should the land be returned to the tribes? This is a fraught issue, but perhaps a good case study to think about cultural appropriation in government collections in contrast to private museum collections.


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