International Repatriation of Tribal 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 many Native American communities and their identity, health, and well-being.

Upon request of a federally recognized Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian community, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) works closely with other federal departments to support efforts to repatriate items of cultural heritage offered in foreign auctions or held in foreign museums. In addition to ancestral human remains, items of cultural heritage might include funerary items, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony as defined under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Other federal departments involved in these efforts include the U.S. Department of State (DOS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

On international repatriation efforts, DOI typically takes a lead in outreach to Native American Tribes and Native Hawaiian communities, and is a lead source of expertise on cultural heritage laws such as NAGPRA, the Antiquities Act, and the Archeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA).

 Any Tribe or Native Hawaiian community that would like assistance with international repatriation issues is encouraged to reach out as early as possible in the process to relevant contacts at the Department of the Interior.

In 2016, DOI held government-to-government consultations with Native American Tribes to explore how to improve federal efforts in support of international repatriation. DOI outlined issues and questions in an August 2016 letter to tribal leaders.​ A summary of listening sessions and consultations is available online.

More links and useful information.

Selected stories of international repatriation efforts.



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

Last Updated May 2018