Vice Chair Murkowski Leads Discussion on Repatriation of Native American Remains and Sacred Objects During Committee Oversight Hearing

During an oversight hearing this week, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA), provided an opening statement on the important oversight role that Congress exercises regarding the implementation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and its importance to Alaska Native, American Indian and Native Hawaiian efforts to repatriate sacred human remains and funerary objects back to their communities.

SCIA Oversight hearing

Pictured: Senator Lisa Murkowski at the SCIA oversight hearing on NAGPRA

“In 1990, Congress passed NAGPRA to establish a legal framework for the identification and repatriation of human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony of Indian Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations,” said Vice Chair Murkowski during her opening statement. “In Alaska, NAGPRA has played an important role in helping to repatriate sacred human remains and funerary objects. Since NAGPRA’s enactment, tribal communities and institutions in Alaska have been awarded over $6.9 million in federal funds. These funds helped facilitate 155 consultation, documentation, and repatriation projects. The real-life impact of this federal investment means that from seventy museums and federal agencies located across the United States, 1,843 Native American individuals were repatriated and returned home to their Alaska Native communities. But the work is not finished. There are still 406 Alaska Native individuals who remain housed in twenty-six museums or federal agencies, pending consultation and notification prior to repatriation. I hope to hear today from our federal witnesses about the status of those pending repatriations.”

Click here to watch the Vice Chair’s opening statement.


SCIA Witness

Pictured: Dr. Rosita Worl testifying before SCIA at the NAGPRA oversight hearing 

Vice Chair Murkowski welcomed Alaska Native witness, Dr. Rosita Worl, President of Sealaska Heritage Institute, who served on the NAGPRA Review Committee for thirteen years, from 2000 to 2013, including a term as Chair. The Senator asked Dr. Worl about the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) providing special consideration to Alaska Native communities when applying NAGPRA, and what recommendations she may have in strengthening its implementation.

“From my own work with NAGPRA and from the multitude of voices I heard from Native Americans across the country, and from Native Hawaiians, during my twelve year tenure, I came to appreciate that NAGPRA is one of the most significant legislative acts in our history. Congress recognized the significance of cultural property held by museums and other entities. They understood the traumatic harm that came from the expropriation of our sacred objects and ancestral human remains from our homelands, and the need to return them to the original owners and descendants” said Dr. Rosita Worl.

Vice Chair Murkowski also posed questions on repatriation efforts and enforcement of NAGPRA to Joy Beasley, Associate Director of Cultural Resources, Partnerships and Science for the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Click here to watch the Vice Chair’s questions to Ms. Beasley and Dr. Worl.

To find witness testimony and video of the oversight hearing, click here