The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), as passed in 1990, required museums and other institutions that receive federal funding to follow a process developed for transferring culturally affiliated human remains and associated funerary objects, unassociated funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony to lineal descendants and Indian tribes that have requested them and have the legal right to them. In 2010, the law was expanded and clarified to embrace the transfer of culturally unidentified human remains and associated funerary objects.
With the assistance of its NAGPRA Advisory Committee, the University of Michigan has established a formal set of policies and procedures to guide efforts to meet both the letter and spirit of the law. As required under NAGPRA, the process centers on a consultative process the University initiates with tribal officials. Additionally, consultation involves fostering a broader constructive dialogue among scholars, tribal members, and the general public to promote mutual respect and understanding. We appreciate that NAGPRA is not simply a legal or intellectual matter, but also one of personal, cultural, and spiritual importance.
The University recognizes and respects the rights and sovereignty of each federally recognized Indian tribe and Native Hawaiian organization within the NAGPRA process. As it moves forward with consultations and transfers, the University will review and revise its policies and procedures as needed to comply with federal regulations, to promote amicable relations with tribes and their members, and to demonstrate its values and fulfill its responsibilities as a public university.
Based on current information, the University’s Native American collections include culturally unidentified human remains and funerary objects from 38 states, but approximately 80% of the human remains and 50% of the funerary objects come from sites in Michigan. The University’s NAGPRA Advisory Committee has set the return of human remains and funerary objects from sites in Michigan as the first priority. The University will move forward with the NAGPRA process as it concerns human remains and funerary objects from other states, as well as ethnographic objects originating from sources throughout the United States that may be sacred or considered cultural patrimony, as soon as possible.