Repatriation of Cultural Property in the United States: A Case Study in NAGPRA (USA)

  • Joe Watkins
Living reference work entry


In the United States, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (“NAGPRA” hereafter) created mechanisms whereby individuals and federally recognized tribes could request the return of human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and items of cultural patrimony from museums and federal agencies. These processes have allowed tribal groups to obtain various classes of human remains and material artifacts from federal museums and federal agencies, as well as those institutions which receive federal funding.


The following definitions are found on the National NAGPRA Glossary (n.d.) at “Human remains” are generally considered to be “(t)he physical remains of the body of a person of Native American ancestry. The term does not include remains or portions of remains that may reasonably be determined to have been freely given or naturally shed by the individual from whose body they were...

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  1. Bruning, S. 2009. Written testimony before the US House of Representatives’ Committee on natural resources oversight hearing on the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Available at Accessed 3 Mar 2012.
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  3. Meighan, Clement W. 1992. Some scholars’ views on reburial. American Antiquity 57(4): 704–710.Google Scholar
  4. National NAGPRA. n.d.. Available at
  5. Turnbull, P., and M. Pickering. 2010. The long way home: The meaning and values of repatriation. Oxford: Berghahn Books.Google Scholar

Further Reading

  1. Fforde, C., J. Hubert, and P. Turnbull, eds. 2002. The dead and their possessions: Repatriation in principle, policy, and practice, One world archaeology. Vol. 43. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. Mihesuah, D.S. 2000. Repatriation reader: Who owns American Indian remains? Lincoln: University of Nebraska.Google Scholar
  3. Watkins, J. 2005. Sacred sites and repatriation, Contemporary Native American issues series. Philadelphia: Chelsea House.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Archaeological and Cultural Education ConsultantsTakoma ParkUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Angela Labrador
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of Massachusetts AmherstAmherstUSA