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NAGPRA: Efective Repatriation Programs & Cultural Change in Museums

T. J. Sullivan, M. Abraham and D. J. G. Griffin, Curator 43/3, p 231-260 (2001).

Abstract

A survey of museums in the United States sought to identify evidence of museum practices indicative of an attitudinal change as a result of the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act 1990 (NAGPRA). NAGPRA establishes a process for the repatriation of human remains and other specified items held in museum collections to Native Americans who can prove they are lineal descendants or members of tribes which are culturally affiliated with identified items covered by the legislation. Effective repatriation programs are characterised by:

Our research shows that museums are engaging in consultation with indigenous people in the management of collections of indigenous cultural heritage, and that this engagement is influencing conservation strategies. Museums espouse goals which promote external consultation, the involvement of indigenous people in their activities, respect for the cultural goals of indigenous people and a commitment to increasing public awareness of indigenous cultural heritage and social issues. However, only in the areas where NAGPRA has mandated it should happen – collections of human remains and secret/sacred material – is there evidence of communication and consultation, commitment of resources and sharing of authority with indigenous people consistent with the outcomes intended under NAGPRA.