Full legal name:
Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act
25 U.S.C. 3001 Et seq.; 43 CFR 10
Quick reference name or acronym:
Where does it apply:
Federal agencies that receive federal funding (museums, universities, medical examiner’s offices, military bases, NPS collections, etc.), and discoveries on federal lands.
NAGPRA is a federal law that facilitates the respectful return of Native American ancestral remains, funerary objects, and objects of cultural patrimony held in museum collections, or discovered on federal lands.
What the law does:
- Provides Definitions: The law defines what objects are covered under NAGPRA, which includes ancestral remains, associated funerary objects, unassociated funerary objects, and objects of cultural patrimony. This means the physical remains of an ancestor, as well as objects that were laid with them at death.
- Establishes Ownership: The law determines who has ownership of cultural objects, and establishes who has a legal obligation to comply with the law.
- Requires Consultation: The law requires each federal agency with cultural items to consult with any and all federally recognized tribes who may have a claim to the ancestral remains and objects in their custody.
- Requires the Completion of an Inventory: The federal agency must complete a detailed inventory of all cultural objects in their possession and determine cultural affiliation of those objects and ancestral remains.
- Establishes Cultural Affiliation: Cultural affiliation means which Tribe the cultural objects are most closely related to. The agency establishes cultural affiliation by compiling:
- Evidence of a kin or cultural affiliation between a present-day individual, Indian tribe, or Native Hawaiian organization and human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony must be established by using the following types of evidence: Geographical, kinship, biological, archeological, anthropological, linguistic, folklore, oral tradition, historical, or other relevant information or expert opinion.
- Repatriates cultural objects: Requires the federal agency repatriate (return) ancestral remains and cultural objects determined to be culturally affiliated to a federally recognized Native American Tribe.
- Establishes Protections and Penalties: Burial sites cannot be disturbed on federal lands without consultation with Native American Tribes. Additionally, any federal agency who fails to comply with inventory requirements, and shows willful failure may be assessed penalties.
What the law does not do:
- Make Determinations: The law does not make any specific determinations, or interfere between a federal agency and a Native American Tribe. NAGPRA can provide guidance, but cannot mandate a specific outcome.
- Provide Policing: While the law does provide penalties, the assessment of penalties is very rare. The law provides guidelines, but very little enforcement.
- Apply to Everyone, Everywhere: NAGPRA only applies to federal agencies (museums) or discoveries on federal lands. NAGPRA does not apply to private citizens, agencies that do not receive federal funders, or state/private lands. NAGPRA only applies within the United States, and cannot facilitate international repatriations. NAGPRA also does not apply to the Smithsonian Institution.
Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)