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ProPublica Investigates U.S. Institutions' "Delayed" Returns of Native American Heritage

January 11, 2023

[Image Source: ProPublica, The Repatriation Project]

Cited article by Logan Jaffe, Mary Hudetz and Ash Ngu (ProPublica) and Graham Lee Brewer (NBC News via ProPublica)


HRRC highlights the failure of U.S. institutions to adhere to Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGRPA) published by ProPublica in an investigation project. The ongoing possession of Native American cultural heritage not only originates from genocidal looting and theft, but continues to harm living descendants and tribal members. Institutions must make a greater effort to work with indigenous tribes to return this heritage to their proper home.



Article Summary


ProPublica announced they are investigating United States institutions' failure to return Native American Objects. Museums and universities in the U.S. that receive federal funding are obligated under NAGRPA to publicly report their holdings and consult with federally recognized tribes to determine to which tribes human remains and historical objects should be returned. ProPublica reports that many of these institutions have narrowly interpreted "cultural affiliation" and avoid NAGPRA by categorizing many of their collections as "culturally unidentifiable".


In the 1800's, museums and the U.S. government encouraged looting of indigenous objects, human remains, and cultural heritage. However, despite the 1990 federal repatriation act, many of those items that were stolen and looted still reside within some of the U.S.'s most well-known institutions. ProPublica includes a list of these institutions and highlights that only portions of some collections have been made available to return, while others remain in the collection under the label of "culturally unidentifiable".



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