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Modern Approaches to NAGPRA

Research Thesis by Brady Wolf

The purpose of this study was to identify and describe Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act compliance methodologies and how institutions overcame the challenges inherent in the act. The research focused on how professionals performing repatriations perceived their efforts and employed techniques and perspectives, and how tribal representatives who facilitated repatriations for their community experienced the process. Current literature suggested that museums struggle to repatriate human remains and significant objects due to issues of funding, staffing, legal confusion, and lack of relationships with indigenous communities. Literature also suggested tribal communities historically struggled to have their perspectives heard by the academic and scientific communities, and were forced to wait extensively for the return of their ancestors and material culture. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews with repatriation professionals from six museums or universities, and three tribal nations. The results of this study indicated that a collaborative approach to repatriation that prioritized indigenous concerns was an effective way to overcome the challenges found in NAGPRA compliance. This study also suggested that the experience of tribal representatives varied widely between individuals and institutions, and often predicated upon the actions of a few dedicated individuals to be successful. The limitations of this study included the small sample size, a limited pool of contacts, and effects of the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of efficient communication.


Wolf, B. (2020). Modern approaches to NAGPRA (Order No. 28023130). Available from Dissertations & Theses @ University of Washington WCLP; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (2437207735). Retrieved from


thesis; Museum studies; NAGPRA; Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act; Native peoples of North America; Repatriation; Native Americans