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Repatriation of Indigenous human remains 'takes time,' despite federal law

Hiʻilei Julia Kawehipuaakahaopulani Hobart, a Yale Assistant Professor of Native and Indigenous Studies, stands in a corridor on the Yale campus.
Mark Mirko
Connecticut Public
February 24, 2023 - New Haven, Ct. - Hiʻilei Julia Kawehipuaakahaopulani Hobart is Yale Assistant Professor of Native and Indigenous Studies who was instrumental in helping repatriate indigenous remains to Hawaii. The Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) has been on the books for more than 30 years and six institutions in Connecticut have or had the remains of indigenous ancestors subject to NAGPRA in their collections. The Peabody Museum at Yale, for instance, has the remains of at least 300 individuals that have yet to be repatriated. Photograph by Mark Mirko/Connecticut Public.

How are museums where we live faring in returning sacred Indigenous objects and human remains, more than thirty years after a federal law mandated "repatriation"?

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, was passed by Congress in 1990. It called for federal agencies and federally-funded museums to repatriate Native American cultural items, including sacred objects and in many cases human remains.

A recent in-depth report from ProPublica found that museums and institutions across the country had failed to "expeditiously" meet that federal law where it concerns human remains.

For example, the nearby Harvard Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology has made just 39% of the more than 10,000 Native American remains it reported to the federal government “available for return.”

ProPublica reporters Mary Hudetz and Logan Jaffe join us. Kate Seltzer with Connecticut Public’s investigative team, The Accountability Project, shares what she found when she checked in with museums where we live.

Plus, Connecticut Humanities executive director Jason Mancini addresses a "trust deficit" among tribes.

"Working with tribes takes time. Relationships don't happen automatically because a piece of legislation happens... that takes years, it takes trust-building. And one of the challenges with Connecticut is there's a trust deficit with tribal communities."

"Let's not lose sight of the fact that you know, three of the tribes are only state-recognized, and have very little resources to do anything, and don't have deep tribal economies to support this kind of work. So I think we need to consider all of that in the equation."


  • Mary Hudetz: Member, Crow Tribe; Reporter, ProPublica; Former President, Native American Journalists Association
  • Logan Jaffe: Reporter, ProPublica
  • Kate Seltzer: Howard Center for Investigative Reporting Fellow, The Accountability Project
  • Jason Mancini: Executive Director, Connecticut Humanities; Former Director, Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center

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Katie is a producer for Connecticut Public Radio's news-talk show 'Where We Live.' She has previously worked for CNN and News 8-WTNH.
Catherine is the Host of Connecticut Public’s morning talk show and podcast, Where We Live. Catherine and the WWL team focus on going beyond the headlines to bring in meaningful conversations that put Connecticut in context.