Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act

The Henry Ford is committed to fully implementing the spirit and letter of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). As part of this, THF recognizes the importance of engaging in consultation with Tribes and Native Hawaiian Organizations. An FAQ has been provided below that includes a description of the law, relevant definitions, and additional information about how this applies to THF.

For additional inquiries, or to request a virtual or in-person consultation, please get in touch with us via the form. If you have any concerns about how THF is handling consultation or repatriation processes, please fill out the Concerns form. A member of the NAGPRA Oversight Committee will be in touch.

A Message from our President & CEO

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), signed into Federal law in 1990, calls for the protection and the repatriation of Native American human remains, funerary and sacred objects and artifacts that represent cultural patrimony. This law recognizes that any defined cultural items that were removed from tribal lands belong to descendants, Indian Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations.

While The Henry Ford has not identified any ancestral remains, we recently discovered Native American Cultural items that may be subject to NAGPRA. We are taking significant steps to ensure the respectful repatriation of those artifacts to their rightful tribal nations.

The Henry Ford is deeply committed to respecting the cultural heritage of Native communities and aligning with the regulations of NAGPRA. We do not intend to hold or use any objects subject to NAGPRA repatriation. We fully recognize the significance of these sacred artifacts to their respective tribal nations and take responsibility for facilitating their dignified return.

In addition, The Henry Ford is actively inviting tribal nations to consult as part of the repatriation process. We value collaboration with Native communities and look to create open dialogue and respectful engagement with tribal leaders and representatives. Our goal is to provide meaningful opportunities for tribal nations to voice their wishes and help guide culturally appropriate repatriation.

We have created an internal, cross-functional team at The Henry Ford that reviews all policies and procedures related to NAGPRA to further ensure compliance. For more information, please contact our NAGPRA Coordinator by filling out the Concerns form.

Patricia Mooradian, President & CEO at The Henry Ford

Land Acknowledgement

The venues of The Henry Ford stand on the ancestral, traditional, and unceded homelands of the Three Fires Council—the Odawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi peoples. The Miami, Wyandot, and Fox Nations also called this land their home. The 1807 Treaty of Detroit led to the forcible removal of these First Peoples, and they dispersed throughout the United States to parts of current-day Michigan, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Kansas, and into Canada. The Henry Ford acknowledges the impacts of settler colonialism and commits to deepening its relationship with Indigenous communities in the present—and future.


The Tribal Consultation and Repatriation Policy covers THF’s legal requirements under NAGPRA, as well as affirming our commitment to respectfully caring for all collections in THF’s care.


What cultural items are subject to NAGPRA?

“Cultural Items” subject to the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) are human remains, associated funerary objects, unassociated funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony. These terms and other key NAGPRA terms are defined in the NAGPRA at 25 USC 3001.

Key NAGPRA definitions (25 USC 3001):

Funerary object means an object that, as a part of the death rite or ceremony of a culture, is reasonably believed to have been placed with individual human remains either at the time of death or later. Funerary objects may be either associated or unassociated.

Sacred object means a specific ceremonial object which is needed by traditional Native American religious leaders for the practice of traditional Native American religions by their present-day adherents.

Object of cultural patrimony means an object having ongoing historical, traditional, or cultural importance central to the Native American group or culture itself, rather than property owned by an individual Native American, and which, therefore, cannot be alienated, appropriated, or conveyed by any individual regardless of whether the individual is a member of the Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization. Such object shall have been considered inalienable by such Native American group at the time the object was separated from such group.

Does THF possess any NAGPRA items?

NAGPRA items are not part of the Museum’s past or current curatorial plans. However, after conducting a recent review, the Museum has identified certain cultural items in its possession that may be affiliated with Native American tribes and Hawaiian Organizations. These items were obtained by the Museum prior to the establishment of NAGPRA.

The Museum has not identified human remains of Native ancestry in its current possession. The Museum is committed to working closely with tribal leaders to facilitate the repatriation of all cultural items in its possession.

Who has a right to make a claim for NAGPRA items?

NAGPRA is a federal law that grants certain rights for lineal descendants, Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations in relation to cultural items connected to them. The law requires consultation with tribal leaders (and lineal descendants for human remains), to determine affiliation, considering various types of information available such as geographical, kinship, biological, archaeological, anthropological, linguistic, folkloric, oral tradition, historical, expert opinion or other relevant information.

A finding of cultural affiliation does not have to be scientifically proven beyond doubt. Instead, the tribe or organization must demonstrate that it is more likely than not that an affiliation exists based on all the evidence presented. Cultural affiliations can still be established even if there are gaps in the historical record.

Key NAGPRA definitions (25 USC 3001):

Cultural affiliation means “a relationship of shared group identity which can be reasonably traced historically or prehistorically between a present-day Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization and an identifiable earlier group.” 25 USC 3001.

A lineal descendant is an individual tracing his or her ancestry directly and without interruption by means of the traditional kinship system of the appropriate Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization or by the common law system to a known Native American individual whose remains, funerary objects, or sacred objects are being requested.

An Indian tribe is any tribe, band, nation, or other organized group or community of Indians that is recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians.

A Native Hawaiian organization includes any organization that: (a) serves and represents the interests of Native Hawaiians, (b) has as a primary and stated purpose the provision of services to Native Hawaiians, and (c) has expertise in Native Hawaiian Affairs and includes the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

How does a museum go about repatriating cultural items to the rightful lineal descendants or tribal groups?

Under NAGPRA, Museums are required to produce (and update) written summaries of objects, in their possession, subject to NAGPRA. These summaries serve as an invitation for tribal groups and/or traditional religious leaders, to engage in consultation regarding Native American unassociated funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony held by a museum or federal agency.

Museums then undertake consultation with lineal descendants, federally recognized Indian Tribe(s), and Native Hawaiian organizations; and conduct repatriation of ancestral remains and objects subject to NAGPRA, returning them to the appropriate lineal descendants, culturally affiliated Indian tribes, or Native Hawaiian organizations, upon their request.

What will “consultation” look like and how long will it take to repatriate all cultural items in the possession of THF?

Upon completion of the summary, THF will invite appropriate Tribal Leaders to begin consultation. While the invitation may be delivered by letter or a phone call, THF recognizes that in-person communication is a vital part of the NAGPRA process and will make appropriate arrangements to accommodate in-person consultation.

THF has made consultation and repatriation related to cultural items a priority and has dedicated resources and staff to this project. THF is committed to conducting a methodical, transparent, and respectful consultation as well as working in close partnership with Tribal Leaders and their timelines. While consultation may take some time, THF is committed to open communication with and updates to interested parties.

In what condition are the NAGPRA objects in THF’s possession now and how are you respectfully caring for them?

Any and all items undergoing review for NAGPRA applicability and affiliation analysis have been set aside in restricted-access, temperature-controlled environments while they await consultation and repatriation. These items are not part of any public display or exhibit.

Who is financially responsible for expenses associated with consultation and repatriation, including potential hotel and travel for tribal representatives?

NAGPRA does not dictate who is financially responsible for consultation or repatriation costs. However, a museum or an Indian tribe can apply for federal funds to cover costs associated with consultation or repatriation. See Grants for more information.

Is the Museum accepting new donations of NAGPRA Objects or undertaking new excavations?

No. Items that have previously been identified as potentially subject to NAGPRA and are in the possession and care of THF, will not be used for display, research, or other programming purposes.

THF is currently preparing to make summaries available and undertake consultation activity as required by NAGPRA.

How can I learn more or request information?

For questions about the consultation process or to submit a request or report a concern, please visit our contact page.