WASHINGTON – The Department of the Interior on July 15 announced it will conduct consultations with tribal and Native Hawaiian community leaders as part of an ongoing review to update Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act regulations.
Enacted in 1990, NAGPRA provides a process for the disposition and repatriation of Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony back to lineal descendants, Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations.
“Changes to NAGPRA regulations are long overdue,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “It is crucial that as we consider changes, we consult with Tribes and Native Hawaiian communities at each step. I’m hopeful this process will eliminate unnecessary burdens to the repatriation process and allow Indigenous peoples greater access to their ancestors’ remains and sacred items.”
Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Shannon Estenoz said hearing directly from tribal leaders and working with Indigenous communities is paramount to honoring nation-to-nation relationships.
“We are committed to ensuring that Department policy reflects our promise to equity and inclusion and helps fulfill our obligations to Indian Country,” Estenoz said.
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Bryan Newland added that the repatriation of human remains and sacred cultural objects, as well as the protection of sacred sites is integral to preserving and commemorating Indigenous culture.
“As the department continues its work to confront the history of federal boarding schools – including returning the human remains of Native children to their families – we will implement the policies and requirements of NAGPRA to address tribal concerns,” he said.
Since 2010, the DOI has received repeated requests for substantive updates to NAGPRA regulations. Based on community input and previous consultations, the department has prepared a draft proposed rule which seeks to:
· Simplify and improve the regulatory process for repatriation of Native American human remains and cultural items and thereby advance the goals of racial justice, equity and inclusion;
· Rectify provisions in the regulations that inhibit and effectively prevent the respectful repatriation of most Native American human remains and cultural items;
· Remove the burden on Native Hawaiian organizations and Indian tribes to initiate the process and add a requirement for museums and federal agencies to complete the process; and
· Streamline existing regulatory requirements by eliminating ambiguities, correcting inaccuracies, simplifying excessively burdensome and complicated requirements, clarifying timelines and removing offensive terminology in the existing regulations.
The draft-proposed text and current regulations can be found at the National Park Service’s NAGPRA website. Following the consultations, the DOI plans to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking for public comment in October.