Pandemic relief funding may force Calif. museums to repatriate Native artifacts

Small museums and private institutions that accept federal CARES Act money or other stimulus funds could be forced to relinquish thousands of Indigenous items and ancestral remains now in their collections.

Under the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA), museums or other institutions that accept federal funding must compile an inventory of Indigenous cultural items and initiate repatriation of the collections and remains to tribes or family members.

At least two museums are now facing possible scrutiny — the nonprofit Favell Museum of Native American Artifacts and Contemporary Western Art in Klamath Falls, Oregon, and the End of the Trail Museum, which is connected to the Trees of Mystery gift shop in the redwood forest in Klamath, California.

Hundreds of other small museums and institutions could also face scrutiny of their Indigenous collections if they have accepted federal funds.

“This will likely have an impact on private collections that previously did not have NAGPRA obligations,” Melanie O’Brien, manager for the national NAGPRA program, wrote in an email to Indian Country Today.

Museum representatives did not respond to requests for comment from Indian Country Today.

California Assemblymember James C. Ramos, a citizen of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and the first Native American elected to the state’s Legislature, said institutions should step up and comply with NAGPRA.

“If these museums across the state and nation received federal funding in the form of the CARES Act, maybe now is the opportunity for those items to be given back to Indian peoples,” Ramos said.

The CARES Act — the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act — was signed into law in March 2020, providing $2.2 trillion in stimulus funds to families, expansion of unemployment benefits and loans to small businesses, corporations and state and local governments. Continue reading Indian Country Today article on SF Gate.

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