Skip to content Skip to main navigation Report an accessibility issue

Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, is a federal law passed in 1990. It mandates institutions Repatriate, or return, Native American Ancestral Remains, sacred, burial, and other culturally significant items to direct descendants and federally recognized Tribes. NAGPRA provides a legal framework and pathway for these processes to take place. 

The McClung Museum is fully committed to the ethical and legal principles of NAGPRA and considers this law to be the foundation of appropriate museum practices. Since the law’s inception, the McClung Museum has been working in consultation with Native partners to identify and respectfully return cultural items.  

The McClung Museum currently cares for cultural items and Ancestral Remains from Tennessee’s regional Native heritage that were collected through archaeological excavations or donated from private collections. The Ancestral Remains and many of the materials have been identified by Native communities for Repatriation through NAGPRA. 

In 2021, the McClung Museum and several Tribal partners met for a formal NAGPRA consultation. By their request, items that were part of Archaeology and the Native Peoples of Tennessee and Treasures Past and Present: Freshwater Mussels exhibitions have been removed from display. The McClung will continue to collaborate with Native communities to determine the best management of these objects moving forward.

In a critical examination of the museum, the McClung recognizes the need for transparency, and to be a responsible and responsive institution. Repatriation is an important pathway for the museum to acknowledge past injustices and take action. Through this process, the McClung Museum hopes to continue improving and expanding our relationships and collaborations with Native communities.  

Museum in Progress

As part of the Repatriation process, McClung Museum visitors will find that many items have been removed from display and that some cases in the galleries are empty. Leaving these spaces empty is an intentional decision. The McClung is sharing this transition with the public to facilitate a new conversation: one that explores the stories that museums tell and examines who is included in and excluded from creating these narratives.   

Eventually, the Archaeology and the Native Peoples of Tennessee and Treasures Past and Present: Freshwater Mussels exhibitions will be re-envisioned as the museum rotates its permanent displays. Until then, the McClung welcomes the opportunity to highlight the Repatriation process and the examination of our museum practices.