What is NAGPRA and why is it important?

NAGPRA stands for the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which was established in 1990. It is fundamentally human rights legislation, and is in place to protect the cultural and biological remains of Native Americans and their ancestors.

What is the purpose of NAGPRA?

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was enacted to outline a requirement and process for museums and federal agencies to return certain Native American cultural items (including human remains) to lineal descendants, culturally affiliated Indian tribes, or Native Hawaiian organizations.

What does NAGPRA require museums and other federally funded agencies to do?

NAGPRA requires Federal agencies and institutions that receive Federal funds (including museums, universities, state agencies, and local governments) to repatriate or transfer Native American human remains and other cultural items to the appropriate parties by:

  • consulting with lineal descendants, Indian Tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations on Native American human remains and cultural items;
  • protecting and planning for Native American human remains and cultural items that may be removed from Federal or tribal lands;
  • identifying and reporting all Native American human remains and cultural items in Inventories and Summaries of holdings or collections; and
  • giving notice via the Federal Register prior to repatriating or transferring human remains and cultural items.

Who must comply with NAGPRA?

Federal agencies and museums, universities, state agencies, local governments, or any institution that receives Federal funds must comply with NAGPRA.

Who is responsible for monitoring and reviewing the implementation of NAGPRA at the campus level?

In 2020, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign established a NAGPRA Office. Campus NAGPRA compliance is the responsibility of the NAGPRA Program Officer. If you believe that you or your department/unit may be in possession or control of NAGPRA materials, please contact the NAGPRA Program Officer at nagpra@illinois.edu. The NAGPRA Program Officer is assisted and advised by the NAGPRA Advisory Committee, which is comprised of faculty and staff from various University departments/units.

Who is responsible for monitoring and reviewing the implementation of NAGPRA at the federal level?

NAGPRA created a Federal Advisory Review Committee charged with monitoring and reviewing the implementation of NAGPRA. Members are appointed by the Secretary of the Interior from nominations made by Indian Tribes, Native Hawaiian organizations, traditional Native American religious leaders, national museum organizations, and national scientific organizations.

The Review Committee is responsible for:

  • monitoring the NAGPRA inventory and identification process;
  • reviewing and making findings related to the identity or cultural affiliation of cultural items, or the return of such items;
  • facilitating the resolution of disputes;
  • compiling an inventory of culturally unidentifiable human remains that are in the possession or control of each Federal agency and museum, and recommending specific actions for developing a process for disposition of such human remains;
  • consulting with Indian Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations and museums on matters affecting such tribes or organizations lying within the scope of work of the Review Committee;
  • consulting with the Secretary of the Interior on the development of regulations to carry out NAGPRA; and
  • making recommendations regarding future care of repatriated cultural items.

Where can I learn more about the law and the regulations?

The National NAGPRA site has more information about the law and its legislative history.