Obviously many of you have heard of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). There is another repatriation law, the National Museum of the American Indian Act (NMAI) that also makes it possible for Native Americans to request and have returned ancestral human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony. NAGPRA contains a section that clarifies the ownership and control of Native American human remains and repatriatable cultural artifacts that are intentionally excavated or inadvertently discovered on federal or Indian lands. It also reinforces other laws that make it illegal to sell or purchase Native American human remains.

Both NAGPRA and NMAI set up the same basic procedures for returning materials to Native American groups. However each law deals with different groups of institutions. NAGPRA applies to all museums that receive federal funds, except the Smithsonian Institution. It also applies to universities, state and federal agencies and other organizations that receive federal funds. NMAI applies to the Smithsonian Institution's 13 museums.

Who can ask for things back from a museum?

To have a standing to claim under NAGPRA or NMAI you must be either 1. Lineal descendant, 2. Native American Tribe, or 3. Native Hawaiian organization. In Alaska, a "Native American Tribe" includes the traditional/IRA village organizations recognized by the BIA, and the village and regional corporations established under ANCSA. Each village has at least three possible ways to claim. A village may make a claim through the traditional council or IRA or its village corporation. Villages may also as the regional corporations or regional association to submit claims on their behalf.

When are we going to get our items back from museums?

To have material returned from a museum or other organization, a group with standing to claim must submit a letter placing a claim on the material. The claim must to be supported by certain types of evidence that may include geographic affiliation, oral historic information, archaeological or anthropological data and other data. Once a claim has been submitted, it will be evaluated and the tribe/native group and the organization will have a consultation discussing the claim, the evidence and possible the return of the material. Then the museum makes a decision about returning the material. Usually material is returned promptly, although some museums have refused to return material. If this happens the native group may appeal the NAGPRA Review Committee (the Smithsonian has a similar committee) for a recommendation. The Review Committee is made up of museum leaders, anthropologists, archaeologists and Native Americans.

How long does it take to have material returned?

It depends on what is being requested and the amount of that material. Most museums will evaluate the claims to be sure that all the information the museum provided to the tribe is accurate. Usually human remains are returned as quickly as possible, however other times it can take months or years. A lot depends on the number of humans being returned and if the funerary objects are being retuned with the remains. If there are only a few individuals, someone from the tribe can usually go to the museum, take care of the paperwork and bring the remains home. The organization for a larger return may take longer due to packing and making shipping arrangements. Tribes also have to be considerate the people at home who are planning the reburial or storage of the material when it returns home.

Why are museums keeping these remains?

Most museums have kept human remains for physical anthropological study. They were originally collected to learn more about the origins of Native American people and to study their diseases, pathologies and other things that can be learned from their bones. It seems a really gruesome thing to most Native Americans because they don't believe their ancestral remains should be disturbed. Most Native Americans are frustrated because scientists haven't shared what they have learned nor have they had the opportunity to be involved with the studies. Though some museums are against returning human remains, funerary objects and other materials, there are museums that are anxious to work with Native American groups to send material home.

Where can I get more information?

Last year the Aleut Repatriation Commission was organized and has representatives from each of the Aleutian/Pribilof region communities as well as the Aleut Corporation. The Aleut Repatriation Commission was organized to teach Aleuts about repatriation and to develop regional repatriation policy so that we can all work together. Each community's tribal government and village corporation appoints a primary and alternate representative to the commission. The representatives, along with the tribal and village corporations offices have lots of reading material about repatriation and the minutes from our meeting. Call the tribe or village corporation if you have an interest. You can also call me and I will do my best to answer your questions. I am the regional repatriation coordinator, writing grants to do repatriation work, facilitating repatriation meetings and training, and working on a database so we know where Aleut material is. (Allison Young @ 800-478-2742).

What kind of things can we get back from museums?

It is very important that people understand that not everything "Aleut" in a museum can be repatriated. The repatriation laws allow the return of human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony. The objects claimed by Native American groups must fit into the definitions established by the law and are basically the same for both laws.

Human Remains · Not defined in the law, however, we all know what they are.

Funerary Objects · Objects "reasonably believed to have been placed with an individual at the time of death or later…as part of death rite or ceremony". · Objects made exclusively for burial purposes or to contain human remains. ·The objects related to specific individuals, families, or known human remains, or to a specific burial site of a culturally affiliated individual.

Sacred Objects · Specific ceremonial objects which are needed by traditional Native American religious leaders for the practice of traditional Native American religions by their present day adherents.

Objects of Cultural Patrimony · An object having on going historical, traditional, or cultural importance central to the Native American group or culture itself, rather than property owned by an individual Native American and which therefore cannot be alienated, appropriated, or conveyed by any individual whether or not the individual is a member of the Indian tribe. · Such an object shall have been considered inalienable by such Native American group at the time the object was separated from such group

Written by: Allison Young, Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association.

More information can be found on the National Park Service web site located at: