The Potential Future Trends in Native American Repatriation

The recent closures and cover-ups of Native American ancestral displays in museums across the United States have brought attention to the ongoing issue of repatriation. Major revisions to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) have sparked these actions, as institutions are now required to inventory their collections, seek consent from tribes, and follow clear timelines for repatriation. This article will analyze the key points of this text and explore potential future trends related to these themes.

1. Increased Repatriation Efforts

The new regulations under NAGPRA are expected to lead to increased efforts in repatriating Native American ancestors and cultural objects. Museums are now legally obligated to inventory their collections, seek consent from tribes, and follow specific timelines for repatriation. This will likely result in the return of a significant number of items that were previously on public display.

2. Collaboration with Native Nations

The revised regulations emphasize collaboration with Native nations throughout the repatriation process. Museums are now required to consult tribes and obtain “free, prior, and informed” consent before conducting research, accessing or exhibiting native items. This collaboration will not only ensure a respectful and accurate representation of indigenous culture but also facilitate public education in collaboration with native nations.

3. Financial Support from National Park Service

Recognizing the costs associated with consultation, inventory development, and repatriation, the National Park Service has allocated funds to support museums and tribes. Grants amounting to .4 million were awarded last year, including nearly 0,000 to the Rochester Museum and Science Center. This financial support will aid institutions in fulfilling their obligations under NAGPRA.

4. Penalties for Noncompliance

Museums that fail to comply with the revised regulations can incur penalties exceeding ,000, with additional penalties accumulating per day of noncompliance. These penalties aim to enforce accountability and encourage institutions to prioritize repatriation efforts.

5. Emotional Labor and Cultural Impact

It is essential to acknowledge the unpaid emotional and cultural labor involved in the repatriation process. Tribal officials and Native communities are actively seeking the return of ancestral bodies and cultural objects, some of which were previously treated with toxic pesticides and preservatives by museums. This underlines the importance of approaching repatriation with sensitivity and respect.

Predictions and Recommendations

Prediction 1: Increased Focus on Restorative Justice

As more items are repatriated, there will likely be a growing emphasis on restorative justice. Museums and institutions will need to develop long-term relationships with indigenous communities beyond the return of objects. This may involve supporting cultural revitalization initiatives, collaborating on research projects, and addressing historical trauma through public education.

Prediction 2: Advancement in Digital Engagement

With the removal of Native American ancestors and cultural objects from public display, museums may turn to digital engagement strategies to continue educating the public about indigenous cultures. This may include virtual exhibitions, interactive online platforms, and educational programs that emphasize the importance of repatriation and cultural preservation.

Recommendation 1: Prioritize Proper Documentation

Museums should ensure proper documentation of repatriated items, including detailed records of their origins, cultural affiliation, and associated rituals. This documentation will preserve the historical significance of these objects and provide valuable information for future research and education.

Recommendation 2: Foster Collaborative Partnerships

To facilitate a successful repatriation process, museums should actively seek collaboration with indigenous tribes and nations. This includes involving tribal representatives in decision-making processes, incorporating their perspectives in exhibition design, and fostering ongoing relationships beyond repatriation.

“Will the museum still be invested in the community when the objects are gone? I’m curious about that.” – Nicholas Galanin

In conclusion, the revisions to NAGPRA have prompted significant changes in how museums approach the repatriation of Native American ancestors and cultural objects. The increased focus on collaboration, accountability, and restitution reflects a positive shift towards rectifying historical injustices. By predicting future trends and providing recommendations, museums can embrace these changes and work towards building respectful relationships with indigenous communities while preserving cultural heritage for future generations.


  1. ARTnews. “A New Era of Restitution and Repatriation.” ARTnews,, 7 Feb. 2023,
  2. ProPublica. “Culture Thieves: Inside the Repatriation Wars.” ProPublica, 12 Jan. 2023,