In the Smaller Scope of Conscience: The Struggle for National Repatriation Legislation, 1986–1990

Front Cover
University of Arizona Press, Jan 3, 2013 - History - 270 pages
0 Reviews

In 1989, The National Museum of the American Indian Act (NMAIA) was successfully passed after a long and intense struggle. One year later, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) followed. These federal repatriation statutes—arguably some of the most important laws in the history of anthropology, museology, and American Indian rights—enabled Native Americans to reclaim human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony.

Twenty years later, the controversy instigated by the creation of NMAIA and NAGPRA continues to simmer. In the Smaller Scope of Conscience is a thoughtful and detailed study of the ins and outs of the four-year process behind these laws. It is a singular contribution to the history of these issues, with the potential to help mediate the ongoing debate by encouraging all sides to retrace the steps of the legislators responsible for the acts.

Few works are as detailed as McKeown’s account, which looks into bills that came prior to NMAIA and NAGPRA and combs the legislative history for relevant reports and correspondence. Testimonies, documents, and interviews from the primary players of this legislative process are cited to offer insights into the drafting and political processes that shaped NMAIA and NAGPRA.

Above all else, this landmark work distinguishes itself from earlier legislative histories with the quality of its analysis. Invested and yet evenhanded in his narrative, McKeown ensures that this journey through history—through the strategies and struggles of different actors to effect change through federal legislation—is not only accurate but eminently intriguing.


What people are saying - Write a review

We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.


1 Tallbulls Quest
2 The Green Boxes
3 The Political Dynamics of Public Awareness
4 The Way of the Coyote
5 Two Practices No Policy
6 A Defining Moment
7 The Biggest Thing We Have Ever Done
8 Legislative History in Interpretive Context

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2013)

C. Timothy McKeown is a legal anthropologist with the Department of the Interior where, for 18 years, he worked directly on the implementation of NAGPRA. He is also an instructor for the National Association of Tribal Historical Preservation Officers.

Bibliographic information