The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act is a U.S. federal law that mandates the return of human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony to lineal descendants, Native American tribes, Alaskan natives, and Native Hawaiian organizations. The Yale Peabody Museum is committed to satisfying both the letter and the spirit of NAGPRA.

Pioneering legislation and movements—the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the American Indian Movement in 1968, the Indian Civil Rights Act in 1968, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978, and the National Museum of the American Indian Act in 1989—culminated in the passage of NAGPRA in 1990 after decades of Native American activism that strove for respectful treatment of Indigenous human remains and cultural objects within museum and other institutional collections.

Working toward repatriation and the physical disposition of human remains and cultural objects requires that museums publish inventories of their Native American collections. These inventories are a starting point for museums and tribes to engage in a consultation process that forms the center, the heart, the foundation, of NAGPRA. The Yale Peabody Museum wholly values this ongoing and open dialogue. We recognize that, beyond the legalities of NAGPRA, we must consult with tribal representatives and members to impart personal, cultural, religious, and spiritual perspectives on objects and remains within our collections.

Museums with historical collections must confront the difficult legacies that amassed such collections. The Yale Peabody Museum believes that repatriation is just the beginning of our commitment to form long-standing relationships with Native American tribes and other descendant communities, both locally and around the world. The Peabody, dedicated to this process, has completed the following repatriations.

  • In June 2018, the remains of 7 Māori ancestors were repatriated to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. A public ceremony at the Peabody brought together the delegation of Te Papa representatives, Peabody staff, Yale faculty, students from Yale’s Native American Cultural Center, and Chief Many Hearts Lynn Malerba of the Mohegan Tribe.
  • Hundreds of cultural objects have been returned to the Mohegan Tribe and Tantaquidgeon Museum in Uncasville, Connecticut. In 2018, Mohegan Chief Many Hearts Lynn Malerba stated: “Today with the return of these sacred objects, wholeness has been restored to our Mohegan people.”
  • In 2016, a gut-skin parka from Makarka Point, Alaska, was repatriated to the Chugach Alaska Corporation. The parka will be used by the Chugach people for educational and cultural activities and will be on display in the Native Village of Eyak Cultural Center in Cordova, Alaska.
  • Since NAGPRA’s enactment, the Peabody Museum has taken several other steps to meet the letter and spirit of the law, including completing inventories and summaries of Native American remains and cultural objects and submitting these to the National NAGPRA Program of the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. The Museum has published 20 Notices of Inventory Completion and 8 Notices of Intent to Repatriate in consultation with tribes.

In addition, the Peabody has added a full-time staff member dedicated to the Museum’s support of NAGPRA and repatriation, and engages in ongoing modifications to storage and object handling policies in consultation with tribes according to cultural specifications.
The Museum has received NAGPRA grants to support the following projects.

  • Documentation of remains, funerary objects, and ethnographic items in consultation with the 5 federally recognized Chugach villages in Alaska.
  • Determination of the cultural affiliation of ancestor remains and identification of sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony, in consultation with the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma and the Arapaho Tribe of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming.
  • Documentation and photography of Plains-attributed ethnographic items to facilitate consultations with a consortium of tribes.
  • Repatriation of cultural items to the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes in Alaska.

Ongoing partnerships with tribes and tribal members through collaborations with artists at the Museum are part of the Peabody’s efforts toward sustaining relationships with descendant communities. Some of these include:

  • Internationally acclaimed Native Kwakiutl artist Richard Hunt (Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw) carved his Sea Monster Mask, now in the Peabody’s collections, during a public event at the Museum in 1999. Hunt returned to Yale in 2019 for a student-curated exhibition at the Yale University Art Gallery where this mask was displayed, the first campus exhibition of Indigenous art to bring together objects from the Yale University Art Gallery, the Yale Peabody Museum, and Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
  • Traditional potter, and professor, Clarence Cruz (Khuu Khaayay)—Tewa from Ohkay Owingeh (formerly San Juan Pueblo)—gave a talk and demonstration at the Peabody during a visit to Yale in 2017 about his work that continues the living traditions of Pueblo pottery.

The Museum’s renovation will not affect the NAGPRA consultation or repatriation process. Direct consultation inquiries and requests for information about our collections to the Peabody’s Associate Registrar for NAGPRA.

Jessie Cohen Repatriation Compliance Coordinator,
Collections / Research / Registrar
Associate Registrar for NAGPRA,
Anthropology
+1 203 432 2779 jessie.cohen@yale.edu

All formal repatriation requests should be submitted in writing to the Office of the Director.

David Skelly, Director

Office of the Director
Peabody Museum of Natural History
Yale University
P.O. Box 208118
New Haven, CT 06520-8118 USA