Earlier this week, the Department of the Interior proposed revisions to the regulations governing the implementation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). The NAGPRA was enacted in 1990 to address the rights of lineal descendants, Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations to Native American cultural items, including human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony. The law requires museums to compile certain information regarding Native American cultural items in their possession or control and provide that information to lineal descendants and the National NAGPRA Program to support repatriation.
According to the Federal Register notice published by Interior, the newly proposed regulations are intended to clarify and improve upon the systematic process for the disposition and repatriation of Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony. The Interior Department states that the proposed changes would provide a step-by-step roadmap for museums and Federal agencies to comply with requirements within specific timelines to facilitate the required disposition and repatriation.
Public comments are currently being accepted on the proposed rule until January 17, 2023. NSC Alliance provided input on the draft proposed changes in a letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget last month. Our comments have now also been submitted to the National Park Service in response to the Federal Register notice.
Across the country, museums remain committed to doing everything they can to facilitate the identification and safe, respectful repatriation of Native American and Native Hawaiian human remains, funerary objects, as well as important cultural and ceremonial items to tribes and communities, notes NSC Alliance in the comments. However, there are concerns that the proposed revisions to NAGPRA regulations, if implemented, could place substantial administrative, staffing, and financial burdens on museums.
The letter expresses strong support for the mission of NAGPRA, but urges that any finalized rule account for the staffing and resource limitations of our nation’s museums as well as their tribal partners. Additionally, NSC Alliance requests that any new rule changes provide clear guidelines to enable museums to comply with NAGPRA regulations efficiently and in a timely manner.