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Empty Graves and Full Museums: The Need to Include Non-Federally Recognized Tribes in NAGPRA Claims

Manda N. McElrath

Vol. 55

April 2022

Page 2463

In the latter half of the twentieth century, Congress made several attempts to address Native post-mortem rights, including the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (“ARPA”) and the National Museum of the American Indian Act. The most comprehensive legislation passed was the Native American Graves & Repatriation Act (“NAGPRA”). Enacted in 1990, NAGPRA promulgates a statutory and regulatory framework to address the systemic atrocities perpetrated against Native burial rights for over 200 years. Through the NAGPRA process, select groups of Indians, predominantly federally recognized tribes, can request and attempt to re-possess their cultural items and ancestral remains from museums and federal agencies. However, NAGPRA falls short of its goal as human rights legislation by excluding non-federally recognized tribes from bringing claims for repatriation. This Note analyzes the issues arising from the inability of non-federally recognized tribes to bring claims under NAGPRA and argues that the current statutory framework and definitions inhibit the statute’s effectiveness.

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