Repatriation Laws

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) is a Federal law enacted in 1990 to resolve and restore the rights of Native American lineal descendants and tribes to human remains and cultural items. Federal NAGPRA requires museums, agencies, and universities that accept Federal funding to consult with Native American tribes regarding the repatriation of human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony in museum collections, or discovered on Federal or Tribal lands after 1990.

California NAGPRA  (Cal-NAGPRA) is a State law enacted in 2001 (AB-978) to facilitate the implementation of Federal NAGPRA and to provide a mechanism to repatriate to California Indian Tribes as defined by California NAGPRA. In 2015, the State Legislature transferred oversight of Cal-NAPGRA to the Native American Heritage Commission (NAHC). In 2018, the State Legislature passed AB-2836, which required the University of California to update their Systemwide Policy to expedite repatriation of remaining human remains and cultural items under its stewardship, reconstitute the Systemwide and Campus NAGPRA Committees and comply with State audits. In 2020, the State Legislature passed AB-275, which further amended Cal-NAGPRA to revise the definition of California Indian Tribes, require the creation of Preliminary Summaries and Inventories in consultation with California Indian Tribes and elevate the status of tribal traditional knowledge in determining cultural affiliation and identifying cultural items.

Repatriation at UC Davis

UC Davis holds Native American human remains and cultural items subject to NAGPRA and/or Cal-NAGPRA in three separate campus repositories including the Department of Anthropology Museum, the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, and the Shields Library Special Collections. Additional potential cultural items are housed at the Gorman Museum, and two UC Reserves under the management of UC Davis (Bodega Marine Reserve and McLaughlin Reserve). The majority of materials subject to NAGPRA and Cal-NAGPRA are stewarded in the Department of Anthropology Museum, which curates archaeological and ethnographic collections, primarily from California.

Prior to the implementation of NAGPRA/Cal-NAGPRA, UC Davis held Native American human remains from approximately 500 ancestors in the University’s stewardship. Human remains and cultural items were primarily obtained between 1960 and 1987 as the result of UC Davis Field Schools, salvage projects, or inadvertent discoveries by the public.

NAGPRA Summaries and Inventories were provided to potentially affiliated tribes and National NAGPRA by 1993 and 1995, respectively. UC Davis also met the deadlines established by the future applicability regulations with invitations to consult. The campus continues to consult and report newly discovered human remains and cultural items. 

In 2014, UC Davis reorganized NAGPRA compliance responsibilities by centralizing compliance under the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor, and hiring a team specifically dedicated to NAGPRA and charged with developing a proactive consultation program. 

In 2021-2022, UC Davis submitted Preliminary Inventories and Summaries to the California Indian Tribes and the NAHC. UC Davis welcomes tribal inquires and consultations. For more information, please contact Megon Noble, Repatriation Coordinator, or review the NAHC Inventories and Summaries web database.