International Repatriation of Native American Cultural Heritage

Foreign holdings and sales of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian cultural heritage are a source of great concern for many Native American communities, including federally recognized Tribes. Cultural heritage is significant to Native American communities and their identity, health, and well-being. Upon request by a federally-recognized Indian Tribe, Alaska Native community, or Native Hawaiian organization, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) works to support efforts to repatriate items of cultural heritage offered in foreign auctions or held in foreign museums. 


Items of concern may include:

  • Ancestral human remains
  • Funerary items
  • Sacred objects
  • Objects of cultural patrimony as defined by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)

DOI's Role:

  • Facilitate communication with other agencies such as the Department of State, as well as Tribes, Alaska Native communities, and Native Hawaiian communities. 
  • Provide expertise on cultural heritage laws (NAGPRA, the Antiquities Act, and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act), federal Indian law, and domestic cultural resource programs.
  • Participate in an interagency staff-level working group on protection of Native American cultural resources, along with the Department of State, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Maintain a DOI-wide staff-level working group for international repatriation of Native American cultural heritage.
  • Consult with Tribes, the Alaska Native community, and Native Hawaiian organizations about how to improve U.S. government support for international repatriation efforts. (See our Links and Information page for more details.)
  • Respond to requests from Congress for input on proposed legislation addressing international repatriation and the protection of Native American cultural heritage. (See our Links and Information page for more details.)

Tribes/Native Hawaiian organizations requesting assistance are encouraged to reach out as early as possible to relevant contacts at the Department of the Interior.

Office of International Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior

Last Updated March 2021



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