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What is Repatriation?
Repatriation is the process whereby human remains and certain types of cultural items are returned to lineal descendants, Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations.
What law covers repatriation at the Smithsonian Institution?
Repatriation activities at the Smithsonian Institution are governed by the National Museum of the American Indian Act (NMAIA), 20 U.S.C. §80q (Public Law 101–185), as amended by the NMAI Act Amendment of 1996 (Public Law 104–278). The NMAIA requires the Smithsonian to return, upon request, Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony to culturally affiliated federally recognized Indian tribes. Two Smithsonian museums—the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH)—have large collections of Native American materials. Each museum conducts repatriation activities for its respective collections according to its own policy and procedures.
Repatriation at the NMAI
Based on the NMAIA, the NMAI has adopted a Repatriation Policy that guides the Repatriation Department's efforts to address domestic and international repatriation cases. The NMAI also recognizes repatriation as a human rights issue for Indigenous Peoples. Based on the NMAI's founding philosophy, and in recognition of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the NMAI regards the repatriation of human remains and associated funerary objects to their lineal descendants and/or communities of origin as a high priority, regardless of geography or socio-political borders. Repatriation staff continue to work in collaboration with Tribes, First Nations, and Indigenous communities to address claims for sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony and to ensure a respectful disposition for human remains and funerary objects. The NMAI's A Step-by-Step Guide through the Repatriation Process and the How Do I...? page provide additional information regarding the repatriation process. See FAQs & Resources for term definitions.