Tribes, Advocates Work to Fix a 30-year-old Loophole in Federal Law


October 13, 2021

Repatriation ceremony at Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. in Oct. 2018. (Photo/Levi Rickert for Native News Online)

More than 116,000 Native American ancestors are in limbo-their remains not yet laid to rest, but instead kept in storage at museums and institutions across the country.

That's despite a 30-year-old federal law Congress passed to ensure institutional return of human remains and sacred objects, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

Back in 1990, NAGPRA required all federal agencies and museums receiving federal funding (excluding the Smithsonian Institute which follows its own repatriation process and includes nearly two dozen museums and research facilities) to catalogue the Native American remains and cultural items held in their collections within five years. The law then required museums and agencies to notify tribes on its specific holdings affiliated to the tribe.


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