The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA) (25 USC 32) and associated regulations (43 CFR 10) governs the return of Native American remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony to lineal descendants, culturally-affiliated Indian Tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations.
Through the provisions of NAGPRA, the federal government acts to treat the remains of Native ancestors and their belongings with dignity, and to return them to their communities with respect for their customs, religion, and traditions.
How NAGPRA Works
NAGPRA requires federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funds (including museums, universities, state agencies, and local governments) to repatriate or transfer Native American human remains and other cultural items to the appropriate parties by:
- Consulting with lineal descendants, Indian Tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations on Native American human remains and other cultural items;
- Protecting and planning for Native American human remains and other cultural items that may be removed from federal or Tribal lands;
- Identifying and reporting all Native American human remains and other cultural items in inventories and summaries of holdings or collections; and
- Giving notice prior to repatriating or transferring human remains and other cultural items.
NAGPRA at the Bureau of Indian Affairs
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is the caretaker of a large collection of Native American human remains and other cultural items. The BIA is working to inventory and identify these items so they can be returned to culturally-affiliated Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations. As of 2023, the BIA has repatriated over 2,608 ancestors and 35,816 associated funerary objects to their Tribes, communities, and descendants.
The BIA continues to consult with Tribal communities and publish inventories of Native American remains and cultural items housed in museums and universities across the United States. The BIA has located 37 institutions who possess part of the BIA’s NAGPRA collection, encompassing 1,111 individual human remains and over 3,900 associated funerary objects.
The number of institutions identified as holding NAGPRA items will increase as the inventory of the NAGPRA collection is completed and the BIA’s repatriation efforts continue.
NAGPRA Next Steps
Lineal descendants, Indian Tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations may submit requests for repatriation in response to notices published in the Federal Register. Learn more about how to find notices and submit requests.
Federal agencies that have excavated or discovered Native American human remains or other cultural items on federal or Tribal land after November 16, 1990 should review the Compliance on Federal and Tribal Lands guide on the National NAGPRA website.