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Repatriation? What Does it Mean?

by Courtney Stucker

The definition of repatriation, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means to restore or return to the country of origin, allegiance, or citizenship. Typically, it is used in a context surrounding prisoners of war or for cultural artifacts. In its Latin etymology, the root of “repatriate” means to go home again, which I believe encompasses the meaning behind the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).


However, within the context of NAGPRA, enacted in 1990, repatriation takes on a completely different meaning. In this instance, it does not refer to living Native people, but instead, refers to the remains of those who have passed on. This act is one of the most significant legacies that Maria Pearson left behind for her people.


As our team discussed in a past blog post surrounding Indigenous peoples’ beliefs about the Spirit Journey, NAGPRA attempts to ensure that those Native people who passed can continue on in their sacred afterlife. It is an essential piece of law that protects their ancestors and should be respected in the highest regard.


When remains are discovered, federal agencies must perform certain actions, such as consulting with the descendants or tribes in the area and give public notice prior to repatriating. For those archaeologists or museums who do not repatriate the buried remains of Indigenous people or attempt to sell their remains/sacred artifacts, can face jail time and a hefty fine.


These guidelines are essential to upholding respect for Native Americans spiritual beliefs and ensuring their traditions can be carried on.


Courtney Stucker is the Digital Producer for Simplex Stories. Originally from Danville, IA, she has around three years of experience in content management, social analytics, and web development. Feel free to reach her at courtney.stucker@wartburg.edu.

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