Alumni Profile: Ellie Heaton (M. HSPH '20)

HSPH Track: Archaeological Heritage
HSPH Alumni Profile: Ellie Heaton

Read about HSPH alumna Ellie Heaton ('20). She is now a NAGPRA Assistant at University of California, Davis.

Why did you choose HSPH?

I saw HSPH as a one-of-a-kind program where I could prepare to continue working in the fields of archaeology and cultural resource management but with a lens of social justice and a method of ethical collaboration. I saw that I would get access to the museum world and the public history landscape. I was excited to see the kinds of connections and intersections our different backgrounds would bring. I was also drawn to the size of the program, where I knew I would get smaller classes and get to know my peers and the program advisors well. I got great experience building relationships with organizations all over the Twin Cities that laid the groundwork for potential future employment.

What do you do in your current position?

I support repatriation efforts at UC Davis. Repatriation is the return of ancestral remains and belongings to their rightful descendants and communities. As a publicly-funded university in the United States, we work to comply with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), a federal repatriation law.

To comply with this law, we consult with Tribal Nations at every step of the process as defined in NAGPRA. We discuss the goals of the Tribe regarding the repatriation of their ancestors and belongings and how UC Davis should treat each individual and item. Most of the collections I work with are from archaeological contexts. I review documentation from the archaeological excavation to best link ancestors with the belongings that were buried with them. We work with the Tribe to write compliance documents that we submit to the National NAGPRA Office. These documents list what is in UC Davis’ collection that will be returned to the Tribe through the repatriation process. I also inventory the collection, rehouse items into culturally appropriate materials, and reorganize the collection - all as directed by the Tribe. 

In what ways did the HSPH program prepare you for your current position?

I was fortunate to have internships that allowed me to work directly with the NAGPRA process. I interned, and later worked, at the Weisman Art Museum on campus doing collections work and research related to their NAGPRA-eligible collection of Mimbres material.

My capstone project was also focused on best practices for working respectfully and reciprocally with Tribal Nations. I worked with Upper Sioux Community on various heritage-related projects and learned a great deal about Indian Country in the process. Coursework in the class Race and Indigeneity in Heritage Representation also gave me a solid theoretical background in non-extractive collaboration methods.

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