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Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and BLM

What is NAGPRA?

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) requires federal agencies and museums receiving federal funds to locate, inventory and determine the ultimate disposition of cultural items, that is, Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony (NAGPRA materials) under their possession or control. The Act also requires consultation with appropriate Native American tribes, Native Alaskan and Native Hawaiian organizations regarding the identification and affiliation of these materials as well as those resulting from subsequent intentional excavations and inadvertent discoveries.

The BLM has stewardship responsibility for one of the largest collections of museum objects in the Department of the Interior, most (99%) of which are housed in several hundred non-federal repositories. Also, the Bureau currently manages about 245 million acres, which represent a constant potential for the discovery of NAGPRA materials. Potential NAGPRA obligations are also incurred by constant changes in land status as land is regularly acquired and conveyed by the Bureau. A great deal of time, energy, cooperation and funding has been required to implement NAGPRA to date. Direction and technical assistance have been provided to BLM Field personnel with specific written guidance consisting of 281 pages of NAGPRA implementation, summary documents or policy guidance.

An Office of the Inspector General report (No. 00-I-377) found in May 2000 that "...overall, BLM had made significant progress in complying with the requirements of NAGPRA. Specifically, BLM located and determined tribal affiliation for about 90 percent of the Native American human remains included in its museum collections." To date, 69 Federal Register Notices of Inventory Completion, Notices of Intent to Repatriate or newspaper Notices of Custody Determination have identified thousands of individual remains and objects for repatriation or transfer to affiliated federally recognized Tribes. This signifies thousands of hours of inventory and analysis by non-federal museum and BLM staffs as well as countless hours by tribes in NAGPRA consultations. It has involved BLM in interaction with over 200 museums and approximately 150 tribes and Native Alaskan villages and corporations.

The NAGPRA has created a significant ongoing workload and responsibility for federal agencies. As additional collections come to light and inadvertent discoveries occur, new identification, consultation and disposition obligations arise.

Special kinds of museum collections have come into focus since 1990 through the implementation of the  NAGPRA which requires Federal agencies, museums and institutions that receive Federal funds to locate, inventory and determine the ultimate disposition of certain kinds of objects that have special importance for American Indian peoples.

BLM has regularly affirmed to Tribes, Congress and the Department a commitment to fulfill the statutory mandates of NAGPRA.

Information regarding NAGPRA and NAGPRA implementation in the BLM may be obtained from Emily S. Palus  National NAGPRA Coordinator, Cultural Heritage 202 912-7242.