Feature Repatriation

Learn more about Repatriation.


More from Elyse about Repatriation and Native American artifacts.

Today, literally millions of American Indian artifacts are housed in non-native museums and private collections. Many of these objects, like tools, weapons, and clothes, were acquired through perfectly legal means. Others, however, were bought for pennies, or stolen.

The U.S. government saw nothing wrong with this, since it's official position on the tribes was to try to assimilate them into the mainstream.

But native peoples are still with us. And some have begun to ask, even demand, their most important artifacts back.

So in 1990, the U.S. government signed into law the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA.

NAGPRA requires federally funded organizations to return skeletons and objects of cultural patrimony to tribal representatives, if they follow the correct procedure.

But NAGPRA is far from perfect.

NAGPRA only applies to federally funded organizations. Private collectors - or museums abroad - don't fall under its jurisdiction.

Despite these challenges, both the tribes and the museums see NAGPRA as a step forward.

Repatriation raises complex issues about cultural heritage and who owns it. NAGPRA has stirred the pot, but only time will tell how these questions will be answered.

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Image: Northwestern University Library, Edward S. Curtis's 'The North American Indian'. Source: Library of Congress