SAN FRANCISCO -- David Hostler learned the troubling news when he journeyed more than 3,000 miles from his Hoopa Valley reservation, California's largest, to dig through troves of tribal artifacts on display and in storage at Harvard University.
Arriving at the Ivy League school's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, which owns the largest collection of American Indian remains outside the Smithsonian, officials suggested he don a pair of gloves and a dust mask before sifting through the collection.
"That's when I found out some of the artifacts had been contaminated," said Hostler, a director of the Hoopa museum and a ceremonial leader of the tribe, which has 4,000 members and an 89,000-acre reservation about 40 miles outside the northern California coastal city of Eureka.
Two years later, Hostler and fellow Indians across the United States remain unsettled by the notion that human remains and sacred objects being returned to them under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, may be poisoned with heavy metals and pesticides that were used as preservatives.
On Friday, representatives of California's 110 tribes began arriving at San Francisco State University for a three-day workshop aimed at raising awareness of the potential health risks that scientists consider especially acute because many of the artifacts -- steeped in spiritual significance -- have been or will be returned to their traditional use.
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