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Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act

An excerpt from June 1988 State Historical Board Policy regarding reinternment of human skeletal remains and associated grave goods:
"It is the apparent that these ancient human beings were buried with the intent of eternal rest. Nor may we presume that, before their death, they had consented to becoming legally owned by another individual, institution, or government. The State Historical Board, in carrying out its responsibilities to all citizens of North Dakota, as mandated by its mission statement, must be faithful in protecting a fundamental human right – the right to rest in peace."


Since 1990, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) has guided museums and additional cultural institutions in repatriating (returning) Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and other objects of cultural heritage to lineal descendants or tribal nations from which those items originated.

Federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funding, inclUuding museums, universities, and state agencies such as ours, are required to transfer human remains and cultural items within their collections to the appropriate tribal nations or individuals.

Newly updated NAGPRA guidelines went into effect on Jan. 12, 2024. These updates require further tribal consultation and approval from the affiliated Native communities before an institution can display human remains or cultural items—namely funerary objects, objects of cultural patrimony, and sacred objects.

With the new policy changes, U.S. museums involved in preserving and exhibiting Indigenous artifacts must comply with the new rules, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior by 2029. These new rules require museums and others to update inventories of human remains and associated funerary objects.


The State Historical Society follows NAGPRA guidelines and is committed to fulfilling the January 2024 updates. We have been and will continue working as partners with tribal nations and descendants to make the state collections available for viewing and to repatriate all appropriate items. This law impacts our State Historical Society collections in the areas of archaeology, museum artifacts, and archives.

We are committed to repatriation. The State Historical Society, with oversight from the State Historical Board, the Governor's Office, the Attorney General's Office, and the North Dakota Intertribal Reinterment Committee, initiated museum collection repatriation in the 1980s—before NAGPRA became law in 1990. The Historical Society completed inventories of ancestors and funerary objects in its collections in the late 1980s and sent notifications to tribal nations sharing the geography of this state. After NAGPRA was enacted in 1990, the Society posted its inventory on the NAGPRA website as required by the legislation. We have a history of tribal representatives requesting this listing and visiting the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum to review artifacts.

To guide our work, the State Historical Society follows state and federal laws and created NAGPRA policies and internal guidelines, including a requirement that an entity must complete NAGPRA consultations before any potential artifacts are transferred to or accepted by the agency. Our collection policy states that the agency "shall not accept human remains or associated/unassociated funerary objects into its permanent archaeological collections" pursuant to NDCC 23-06-27 and NDAC 40-02-03.


We are committed to continued transparency and compliance. Our goal is to go beyond federal requirements to ensure that our agency's structure, practices, and values are reviewed and updated as needed to build upon our government relationships with sovereign nations. Our ethical stewardship includes communicating, engaging, respecting, and sharing government-to-government authority.

Certain artifacts within our Native American-related collections may newly qualify for protection under NAGPRA's updated qualifications. To ensure compliance, we are undertaking several initiatives. These will be updated as we make progress.

Our First Steps

  1. We have formed an agency NAGPRA committee representing our collections, exhibitions, education, archives, marketing, and store products teams. We understand that ethical stewardship impacts all areas of our work.
  2. We are reaching out to tribal partners to help accomplish these tasks. We are developing plans to partner with the leadership and tribal historic preservation officers of the five federally recognized tribal nations sharing the geography of our state to establish ongoing consultation and review of our collections, services, and products.
  3. We plan to hire NAGPRA professional consultants to help us conduct an external review of our practice, comply with the new NAGPRA guidelines, continue enhancing our relationships and consultations with tribal nations and increase transparency in our practices.
  4. The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) is housed within the State Historical Society. This team regularly discusses important issues such as NAGPRA compliance with our partner tribal historic preservation officers.


State Historical Board-approved collections policies and internal procedures have long guided our agency's actions. We invite you to review our NAGPRA-related documents.


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