The Road to Repatriation- page 3 | Heritage | Smithsonian
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For decades, Native American groups requested the return of artifacts and human remains. Though there were occasional repatriations, the protests either fell on deaf ears or tribes lacked the financial and legal support necessary to complete the process. (Terry Snowball / NMAI)

The Road to Repatriation

The National Museum of the American Indian works with Native Tribes to bring sacred artifacts home again

“In their eyes, history starts when the Europeans laid eyes on us,” Martin says. “They don’t recognize that we had strong alliances, migration and trade before European contact.”

Despite occasional clashes between federal regulations, museums and tribal beliefs, repatriation laws have helped give Native Americans back many of their treasured objects. Riley, the White Mountain Apache, recalls how less than a century ago Apache territory was part of a military base and Native Americans were dismissed as savages and struggled for the right to vote. Repatriation from museum collections was unlikely.

“We were heard but never really understood. Just like the broken treaties,” he says. “Finally the passage of NAGPRA is helping us repatriate our ancestors.”


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