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Museums, universities urged to comply with Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act

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(National Park Service website)

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators sent letters to five federally funded universities and museums urging them to comply with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatrims ation Act of 1990.

The letters to the University of California, Berkeley, Harvard University, Illinois State Museum, Indiana University and the Ohio History Connection follow media reports that those institutions have failed the mandate to return Native American cultural items and ancestral remains required by the federal law.

Leading the effort is Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and Sen, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the committee’s vice chairman. Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) also signed the letters.


“Delayed repatriation is delayed justice for Native peoples,” the senators said in letters to the five institutions. “For too long, native ancestral remains and cultural items have been unconscionably denied their journey home by institutions, desecrated by scientific study, publicly displayed as specimens, left to collect dust on a shelf, or simply thrown in a box and forgotten in a museum storeroom,” 

“While [the act] has positive and far-reaching impacts, such as improved relationships between museums, institutions, federal agencies and Native peoples, and significant, successful repatriation of many cultural items and ancestral remains, Congress continues to receive troubling testimony detailing ongoing issues related to the timely completion of [the act’s] repatriations,” the senators continued.

The letters were also signed by senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Patty Murray (D-WA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), Tina Smith (D-Maui Now), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).


Text of the full letter sent to all five institutions can be found below. The full letter to the University of California, Berkeley is available here.

For more information, visit: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/nagpra/compliance.htm

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