NAGPRA Compliance

Tribal Consultation, repatriation and compliance with NAGPRA

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) is a landmark human rights law passed in 1990 that transformed the way anthropologists, archaeologists, museums, and Native American communities work. NAGPRA formally affirms tribal sovereignty and establishes a legal framework for Tribes to repatriate their ancestors, cultural patrimony, and items with sacred and ceremonial significance. Its passage transformed the practice of archaeology in the field, labs, research institutions, and museums.

MNA facilitating tribal consultations at White Sands National Park. The NPS wanted tribal views on how to manage ancient trackways that are being exposed.

Throughout its history, MNA cultivated valuable working relationships with Colorado Plateau Tribes, particularly the Hopi, Zuni, Navajo, Pai, and Apache Bands. MNA curates cultural objects and records that originate in these communities and on their ancestral lands. These tribal resources are sources of community pride and are available for cultural traditional practitioners and tribal members to study. Because 83 percent of the land in Arizona is managed by state, federal, and tribal agencies, MNA serves as a meeting ground between federal and tribal entities and facilitates consultations and repatriations of human remains and funerary objects.

Repatriation is one way to address the inequities, injustices, and lack of respect for tribal sovereignty that are all part of the colonial legacy of the United States. With the passage of NAGPRA, all museums were required to submit summaries of their holdings to affiliated tribes. Since then we have seen the return of many cultural items and ancestral remains to sovereign Indigenous nations. MNA submitted the summary of holdings in 1993 and then submitted inventories of human remains and associated funerary objects in 1995. Several NAGPRA grants obtained by MNA have resulted in updated summaries (2005), on-site consultation with the Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, and Apache Bands (2006), and examination of ecofact collections (non-artifactual samples such as animal bone and plant remains) to identify, remove, and report human remains. As part of on-site NAGPRA consultations, the museum included Native perspectives in the construction of the new Easton Collection Center.

MNA has worked with tribes and federal agencies to repatriate numerous ancestors, funerary objects, and items of cultural patrimony under NAGPRA, and has voluntarily repatriated Peruvian artifacts to that nation’s government. MNA archaeologists help agencies write comprehensive agreements to facilitate respectful recovery and return when ancestral remains inadvertently discovered in the course of natural erosion, construction, and other circumstances. Through these processes, we are developing mutually beneficial relationships with tribal museums and cultivating community relationships.

For tribal or federal inquiries regarding consultation, visits, or the Museum’s NAGPRA-related collections, contact the Collections Director here or call 928-774-5211 extension 228.


Learn more about NAGPRA and repatriation:

National NAGPRA

Federal Register

Association of American Indian Affairs