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Panel at entrance to gallery answers the question, "What is Repatriation"

Repatriation of Archaeology & the Native Peoples of Tennessee

Dates: August 23, 2022–December 21, 2023

Produced in collaboration with the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, Cherokee Nation, Chickasaw Nation, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and the University of Tennessee Office of Repatriation, this exhibition reimagines the 22-year-old Native Peoples of Tennessee gallery to highlight the vital role of Repatriation in preserving and commemorating Indigenous cultures. 

Throughout the exhibition, the McClung Museum examines the legal and ethical principles of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), passed into federal law by Congress in 1990. NAGPRA mandates all institutions receiving federal funding provide federally recognized Tribes with a list of Native American Ancestral Remains, burial, sacred, and other culturally significant items for possible Repatriation.

The updated gallery walls feature interpretive panels and quotes from Native representatives and scholars explaining the process of NAGPRA, changing museum practices, and the importance of the law as an expression of sovereignty and human rights for Native communities in the United States. 

Quotes from Native Nation Partners

“I believe that there is no greater honor than having the responsibility of returning our ancestors back to where they belong, in Mother Earth and not on a shelf.”

Johi Griffin Jr. Historical Sites Keeper, Tribal Historic Preservation Office, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

“In our Cherokee culture, no part of the life cycle goes unrecognized. In death, our loved ones return to the earth on a spiritual path with the utmost care, dignity and respect. We continue to participate in these practices today, regardless of the generations removed or miles walked from our homelands during forced removal. Disconnection from these sacred places and journeys was never intended. It inflicts a wound on our cultural history and negatively impacts future generations yet to come. Today, repatriation is our sacred responsibility to protect and return our ancestors to the land where we have always belonged.”

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.

“Our Chickasaw culture, like many ancient cultures, buried our loved ones with their personal items of sentimental value or with objects of honor that would be beneficial to them on their journey to the afterlife. This concept can be compared with a burial of a loved one with a wedding ring or items of sentimental value placed into the casket. Repatriation allows for burial objects to be returned to where they were intended to be: with the individual in their grave.”

Amber Hood, Director of Historic Preservation & Repatriation, Department of Culture and Humanities,The Chickasaw Nation

“The NAGPRA process helps to heal the past byforging a path forward for the return of our Ancestors and the items placed with them upon burial.”

Deanna Byrd NAGPRA Liaison, The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma


Read the McClung’s NAGPRA statement.



This exhibition is sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Authority

Tennessee Valley Authority Logo shows white letters TVA on a dark blue background

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