This website was created in the Spring of 2017 to fulfill the requirements of a Public History Seminar called Indigenous Histories in Public Places, offered through Portland State University’s History Department. During this class, we explored the different ways Indigenous people and culture have been portrayed in and interpreted by American history.
A large part of this history includes the inappropriate display of Indigenous artifacts and human remains that took place during most of the twentieth century and continues in some places today. We were partially inspired to compile this information when the staff at the Museum of the Oregon Territory in Oregon City found a sensitive artifact within their collection and were unsure of how to approach the repatriation process. We developed a deaccessioning and repatriation plan for them, which is included in the resources section of this site.
Though NAGPRA, or the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, was passed in 1990, there are still museums holding Native American artifacts and human remains that should be repatriated under this law. We recognized that complying with NAGPRA can seem like a daunting prospect in a small museum already facing insufficient staffing and funds. We hope this site helps small museums and community members alike understand and embrace the repatriation process as well as provide some practical knowledge about how to begin.
For more information about the history of NAGPRA and the reasons why this law is an important part of American history, we recommend the following books, which informed much of this website:
- Karen Coody Cooper, Spirited Encounters: American Indians Protest Museum Policies and Practices (2007)
- Michelle Jacob, Yakama Rising: Indigenous Cultural Revitalization, Activism, and Healing (2013)
- Laura Peers, Playing Ourselves: Interpreting Native Histories at Historic Reconstructions (2007)
- Kathleen Fine-Dare, Grave Injustice: The American Indian Repatriation Movement and NAGPRA (2002)
- Amy Lonetree, Decolonizing Museums, Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museum (2012)
This website attempts to grapple with some of the issues surrounding repatriation in the modern world. In the spirit of transparency, those of us who worked on this site believe that repatriation of Native ancestral remains and artifacts is an important part of healing a one-sided and often violent relationship between Indigenous Nations and the American government. NAGPRA requires repatriation by institutions that receive federal funding. Even those that don’t technically fall under NAGPRA can benefit from considering the repatriation of culturally sensitive items in their collections. We also recognize that what is right is not always easy. The intricacies of NAGPRA law and questions over preservation versus cultural property evolve with each new case, so we encourage you to conduct your own research into NAGPRA as well.
We would also encourage you to visit the National Park Service’s page on NAGPRA, which provides a myriad of resources about NAGPRA and the roles of tribes, museums, and others under NAGPRA law.