The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) is a federal law and program past in 1990 that forces museums and federal agencies to return Native American property and items such as "human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony" to the descendants and Indian Tribes that they belong to. In order to enforce this law, the act created a NAGPRA Review Committee, which includes two tribal representatives and one ad hoc member. This committee helps the Secretary of the Interior to enforce this law correctly by providing regulation guidance.
In 1993, all federally funded universities and museums were required to send a summary of Native American sacred and ceremonial objects to Indian tribes associated with those artifacts. In 1995, those institutions were required to file inventories of Indian remains and grave goods. Federally recognized Indian tribes who these remains belonged to could request these artifacts returns. Since then, those federal institutions have given back hundreds of thousands of Native American possessions. Some institutions have combated the NAGPRA and resisted giving artifacts back. As was the case with the University of Nebraska, the NAGPRA official’s jobs are to find these holdouts and enforce the laws.
Judge Sherry Hutt explained in her 1990 congressional testimony that NAGPRA "awards an equal protection of property rights already extended to other Americans." She calls NAGPRA "one of the most significant pieces of human rights legislation since the Bill of Rights.
The NAGPRA program has led to great success in the continental United States. Rightfully giving back artifacts to Native Americans for these items proper burial/tradition acts. But in Hawaii, where there are no actual tribes, the U.S. government has chose to let "Native Hawaiian organizations" make claims for these objects. These organizations are required to have some expertise in Native Hawaiian matters and in some way represent Native Hawaiian interests. There is no requirement for these organizations to have Native Hawaiian members.
Hundreds of organizations have made claims on artifacts under NAGPRA, some worth millions of dollars. This has led to many legal battles between Hawaiian archeologists, who feel that their artifacts are being taken by people who should not be able to claim ownership, and the Native Hawaiian organizations. It is a tragedy that such a sound act as NAGPRA can allow such loose organizations to claims Hawaiian artifacts.
Though a negative aspect of NAGPRA is highlighted above, this act has accomplished many great things for the Native American tribes of the United States. The NAGPRA program complies statistics every year that show the different kinds of Indian belongings and how many of them have been repatriated since NAGPRA began in 1990.
Human remains: 38,671 individuals
Associated funerary objects: 998,731 (includes many small items, such as beads)
Unassociated funerary objects: 144,163 (includes many small items, such as beads)
Sacred objects: 4,303
Objects of cultural patrimony: 948
Objects that are both sacred and patrimonial: 822