The National Park Service (NPS) has awarded 20 American museums and nine Indigenous tribes grants totaling $2.1m to assist in the consultation, cataloguing and repatriation of ancestral remains and cultural objects in an effort to increase enforcement of the National American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
The 1990 statute requires federally-funded institutions to inventory their holdings of Indigenous human remains and burial objects to facilitate their return. But adherance and enforcement have been points of contention for several US museums since it was enacted due to logistic hurdles regarding tribal affiliation and compliance.
Among the grantees, the Logan Museum of Anthropology at Beloit College in Wisconsin has received around $12,000 that will facilitate the repatriation of the remains of five individuals and 25 burial objects that were removed from Ventura County in California sometime between 1875 and 1889 by an archaeologist and later sold to the museum.
And the council of the Tlingit and Haida tribes has received nearly $100,000, which will fund consultation and documentation of sacred ceremonial objects that are currently held in the collections of the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College, the Rhode Island School of Design and the Museum of Us in San Diego, California.
The monetary support comes in tandem with the organisation’s ongoing revision of the NAGPRA statute, which is being overseen by the US Department of the Interior with the NPS and several tribal leaders. More than 700 proposals are being reviewed as part of that process, which aims to evaluate compliance failures and correct loopholes in the law that have stalled repatriation procedures.
The grants are “just one way the NPS is advancing a whole-of-government effort to strengthen tribal sovereignty and repair our nation-to-nation relationships”, the NPS director, Chuck Sams, said in a statement. “Repatriation of human remains and sacred cultural objects to Native American Tribes, Alaska Natives and the Native Hawaiian Community is fundamental to ensuring the preservation of Indigenous culture.”