Federal agencies must follow a process for Native American human remains or cultural items removed from or discovered on Federal or tribal lands. This process took effect with the passage of NAGPRA on November 16, 1990, and only applies to Federal or tribal lands. NAGPRA acknowledges that Native American human remains and other cultural items removed from Federal or tribal lands belong, in the first instance, to lineal descendants, Indian Tribes, or Native Hawaiian organizations.
What must be done?
The process follows one of the two paths below:
Who can receive cultural items?
Cultural items excavated from or discovered on Federal or tribal land are transferred using the following priority list:
1. Lineal Descendants (for human remains and associated funerary objects)
2. Tribal Land Indian Tribe or Native Hawaiian organization
3. Culturally Affiliated Indian Tribe or Native Hawaiian organization
4. Indian Tribe with the strongest relationship
b. A different Indian Tribe with a stronger cultural relationship to the cultural items than the aboriginal land Indian Tribe.
What else must be done?
After determining the appropriate party from the priority list, a Notice of Intended Disposition is published twice in a newspaper of general circulation by the Federal agency official. Any human remains or cultural items that are not transferred must be reported as unclaimed cultural items. Federal agencies must report published Notices of Intended Disposition and unclaimed cultural items to the National NAGPRA Program.
NAGPRA intersects with other laws and regulations governing activities on Federal and tribal lands, such as the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). For a comparision of all three laws, see the NAGPRA, ARPA, and NHPA Comparison Chart.
On private or state land, excavations or discoveries are governed first by local or state laws, but human remains or cultural items removed from private or state land may be subject to NAGPRA as a holding or collection, depending on who has control of them.
An online compilation of state burial laws is a useful starting point for determining what local or state laws might apply.
Last updated: April 8, 2020