WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Vice Chairman of the Committee, led a bipartisan group of senators urging the University of California, Berkeley, Harvard University, Illinois State Museum, Indiana University, and the Ohio History Connection to comply with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA). The letters follow media reports that federally funded universities and museums have failed their mandate to return Native American cultural items and ancestral remains pursuant to NAGPRA.
“Delayed repatriation is delayed justice for Native peoples,” the senators said in letters to the five institutions. “For too long, Native ancestral remains and cultural items have been unconscionably denied their journey home by institutions, desecrated by scientific study, publicly displayed as specimens, left to collect dust on a shelf, or simply thrown in a box and forgotten in a museum storeroom. While NAGPRA has had positive and far-reaching impacts, such as improved relationships between museums, institutions, federal agencies, and Native peoples, and significant, successful repatriation of many cultural items and ancestral remains, Congress continues to receive troubling testimony detailing ongoing issues related to the timely completion of NAGPRA repatriations.”
The letters were also signed by Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Patty Murray (D-WA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), Tina Smith (D-MN), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).