The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was passed by congress and signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 with the explicit goal of protecting Native American cultural items and graves. In particular it required institutions receiving federal funding to return cultural items to tribes and to consult tribes when items are discovered. When we were in Arizona both Jefford and Chip Littlefield talked a bit about this law and its ramifications.
A big part of Jefford’s job at the Tohono O’odham Cultural Center and Museum is locating lost cultural items and getting them returned to the reservation. He and Joe Joaquin both talked about going into museums and demanding that certain items be returned to the tribe. NAGPRA provides them the ability to do this. Without this important legislation, tribes could not get back cultural items that have been taken off native land and put into museums. Chip, a ranger at Saguaro National Forest, has also been affected by NAGPRA. Out of respect for the Tohono O’odham and the law he said that if he finds any cultural items he lets them be rather than excavating. By doing this both tourists and Tohono O’odham can enjoy the cultural heritage of the tribe in the natural setting of the reservation.