Contaminated Collections: An Overview of the Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues
Collection Forum, Vol. 17, p. 14, 2001
16 Pages Posted: 9 May 2009
Date Written: 2001
Repatriation of contaminated objects to Native Nations poses at least two distinct issues: first, the need to identify whether dangerous chemicals exist on an object prior to repatriation; and second, for those objects that are contaminated, the need to identify the particular health risk posed by the contamination. These issues fall within a complex legal framework, governed by at least two separate statutory regimes - cultural resources statutes and environmental statutes - as well as by principles of tort law. Although these legal principles influence the respective rights and duties of Native people and of museums, they are not dispositive of the issues. Rather, the issue of repatriation of contaminated objects requires a restructuring of existing law and policy directives to achieve a coherent legal solution. However, before such a restructuring is possible, it is necessary to examine the legal and ethical dimensions of the problem through an intercultural lens. The nature of the problem is one that threatens human health and safety, requiring scientific study of the health effects of such contamination given the patterns of use employed by Native people. However, it is also one that requires recognition of cultural harm and the inadequacy of existing tort law to quantify the damages that are being suffered by Native people.
Keywords: Native people, torts, repatriation
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