Washington, DC—On November 16, 1990, the American people, acting through their representatives in Congress, launched an effort to rectify human rights violations committed against American Indians and Native Hawaiians. Passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) established a process for lineal descendants, Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations to seek the return of human remains and cultural items from federal agency repositories and museum collections.
In the 20 years since, the remains of more than 30,000 individuals and 800,000 objects have been returned to the tribes or Native Hawaiian organizations with which they are affiliated.
“Repatriating the remains of ancestors and important cultural objects is not merely an obligation we have under federal law; it is the right thing to do,” said National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis. “I am proud that the National Park Service plays a key role in this important work.”
The impact of NAGPRA can be profound. Eric Hemenway, Research and Repatriation Assistant for the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Michigan, describes re-interring repatriated remains: “When you do the reburial, you feel really happy and really sad. Sad that these people had to experience this [removal from their resting places and separation from their tribes] but happy to help them. There’s very mixed feelings.”
“The National Park Service tells America’s story,” said Jarvis, “including the shameful chapters. While history cannot be un-done, through NAGPRA, we can help to right a wrong that was perpetuated on native people and cultures for generations.”
To mark the 20th anniversary of NAGPRA, the National Park Service, in partnership with the George Washington University and others, sponsored a two-day symposium in Washington, DC, to examine the impact of the law on tribes, museums, and federal agencies.
This evening, the Department of the Interior will celebrate the 20th anniversary of NAGPRA with a reception in the Stuart Lee Udall Interior Building from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Speakers include Walter Echo-Hawk (attorney and Native American activist), Dan Monroe (Director of the Peabody Essex Museum), and Rosita Worl (Chair of the NAGPRA Review Committee). All are welcome to attend.
Learn more about the National Park Service’s NAGPRA Program online at http://www.nps.gov/history/nagpra.