anthropology

Ethically Grounded Repatriation

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is committed to the principles of respect, reciprocity, justice, and dialogue to address any and all claims for repatriation

On November 16, 1990, Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, known as NAGPRA. This expansive law establishes a process—often called repatriation—for museums to return cultural items and human remains. At the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, NAGPRA has radically improved the Museum’s relationship with Native Americans. The Denver Museum of Nature & Science has returned numerous cultural items through NAGPRA as well as items to Canada and Kenya. The Museum has consulted on all known Native American human remains in its collections and only curates human remains for which informed consent has been given by the individual or her/his family, kin, or community.

Staff

Chip Colwell, PhD

Senior Curator of Anthropology

Dominique Alhambra, MA

Anthropology Collections Manager and NAGPRA Coordinator

Stephen E. Nash, PhD

Senior Curator of Archaeology and Director of Anthropology

Carla Bradmon

Business Support Supervisor

Libby Couch

Business Support Specialist


Repatriation at the Museum

From the first, the Museum’s approach to NAGPRA has been guided by its Ethics Policy Statement (board adopted in 2008; reaffirmed in 2017), which directs the Museum’s president, staff, and trustees to implement ethical practices. These include:

The Museum shall not knowingly and willfully accept or acquire any object that was illegally imported or illegally collected or that was received under circumstances that would encourage irresponsible damage, destruction, or illegal trade of biota; historic, cultural, and natural sites; or human burial places.

Decisions concerning human remains and sacred and funerary objects are treated with the respect and cultural sensitivity that emerges from the legal and governing practices of the culture of origin. The unique and special nature of human remains and funerary and sacred objects is recognized as the basis of all decisions concerning these collections.

Competing claims of ownership that may arise in connection with objects in the Museum’s custody shall be handled openly, seriously, responsively, and with respect for the dignity of all parties involved.

Additionally, the Museum’s approach to repatriation must be guided by its Manual of Collection Policies (board adopted in 2008; reaffirmed in 2017). Read Section 11 of the Manual of Collection Policies for more information.  These principles, practices, and ethical commitments should guide all procedures outlined here. This procedures document particularly reaffirms the Museum’s commitment to the principles of respect, reciprocity, justice, and dialogue to address any and all claims.

Crestone Reburial

OOctober 14, 2015, a wonderfully crisp fall morning under a clear blue sky, a large number of people from Crestone, including the mayor, joined a sizable Museum delegation to pay their respects. We asked the assembled to recognize the sacrifice, honor, and dignity of the individuals whose remains we were burying. We then invited those who were so moved to place the remains in the grave; we tossed handfuls of dirt to cover them before a backhoe gently finished our task.

Learn More

The Skeletons in the Museum Closet

A Mass Burial in Colorado

Frequently Asked Questions

For any cultural items that have been identified as subject to NAGPRA or as sacred, permission must first be obtained from the governing body of the culturally affiliated tribe.

Please reach out to Dominique Alhambra at 303.370.6383 or [email protected]

Every case is treated on its own merits. For a history of the Museum’s approach to NAGPRA, please consult Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Culture.  

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