NAGPRA, Repatriation, and the Peabody

In 1990 President George H. W. Bush (Phillips Academy Class of 1942) signed into law the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). The passage of NAGPRA signaled a major shift in the relationship between Native Americans and museums, requiring that the latter inventory collections and identify human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony and contact the appropriate tribal groups to arrange repatriation. For tribal peoples this represented major human rights legislation.

Former Peabody director James Bradley and repatriation coordinator Leah Rosenmeier embraced the new law and worked diligently through the 1990s and into the early 2000s to identify NAGPRA collections, to determine tribal affiliations, and to ensure timely repatriation. Much of the focus during this time was on human remains and associated funerary objects. Major consultations include those that involved Alfred V. Kidder’s excavations at Pecos Pueblo in the early twentieth century, Warren Moorehead’s excavations at the Etowah and Little Egypt sites in Georgia, and excavations at sites in Maine.

Today the Peabody continues its commitment to working with tribes and indigenous peoples to ensure that ancestral remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony are repatriated in a respectful and timely fashion. Much work has been done and much remains to be done.

The Peabody supports the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and is committed to the repatriation provisions outlined in that document. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples explicitly affirms that indigenous people have a right to repatriation of ceremonial objects and human remains.

We look forward to hearing from the representatives of tribes in the United States or indigenous groups abroad to answer questions, to schedule visits to view collections, to receive guidance on care and storage of collections, or to begin the consultation process. We also are happy to discuss NAGPRA and repatriation with staff members from other institutions. Please contact Peabody director Ryan Wheeler (rwheeler@andover.edu or 978 749 4493) to begin a conversation today.

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