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Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation (NAGPRA)

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) Policy

It is the goal of the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum to work with federally recognized American Indian and Native Hawaiian communities to ensure that objects that fall under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) guidelines for unassociated grave items, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony are returned to their rightful communities. To repatriate is to: physically remove objects from the permanent collection and formally transfer ownership; or to formally transfer ownership and retain the objects at the Museum on long-term loan.

The process of removal and transfer shall be in compliance with all applicable local, state, and federal law. Knowledge of and adherence to the NAGPRA and all other related statutes, UNESCO convention cultural property regulations, and AAM Guidelines shall be observed. The Museum adheres to a policy of full disclosure and public transparency in all transactions.


Based upon an incoming claim, the Museum’s NAGPRA Coordinator creates a written proposal for or against the repatriation of an object from the permanent collection. The Director, the Dean of the Faculty, and the Acquisitions Committee of the Art Advisory Board review all objects recommended for repatriation. The College’s Board of Trustees review proposals for objects whose current fair market value exceeds $100,000. Taking into consideration all recommendations and comments, the Director holds the final authority to repatriate an object from the permanent collection and determine the final method of transfer.

Repatriation Criteria

An object may be considered for repatriation when:

  • The Museum holds unrestricted title to the object and is legally free to dispose of the piece, or the Museum can obtain approval from a court of law to deviate from a donor's terms;
  • The work has a fraudulent, unethical or illegal provenance and the work has a substantiated request for repatriation.

Repatriation Process

1.  The NAGPRA Coordinator will consult with Tribal delegates through an official claim process and identify works to be recommended and reviewed for repatriation.

2.  The Collections Manager will ascertain that the Museum has reasonable documentation to substantiate that it holds unrestricted title to the object and that removal does not violate any conditions made by the original donor(s), as stated in correspondence, a Deed of Gift or the donor's will. If there is question as to the intent or force of restrictions, the Museum will seek advice from legal counsel.  Mandatory restrictions will be observed unless overturned by court order.   

3.  The NAGPRA Coordinator will solicit the opinion of the internal NAGPRA committee made up of the Director and members of the curatorial, education, and collections departments. Additionally, faculty members and/or external scholars may be accessed to substantiate the recommendation for repatriation.

4.  The Director will make a reasonable effort to notify the donor or heir in writing of the proposed repatriation.

5.  A list of works meeting all criteria will be presented to the Director, Dean of Faculty, and the Acquisitions Committee of the Art Museum Advisory Board for review and comment. The list will include full catalogue and donor information, a summary of condition, a photograph, criteria for repatriation, citation of faculty or outside scholar opinions, and the proposed method of repatriation.

6.  The Acquisitions Committee will advise the Art Museum Advisory Board of their recommendations. A list of objects approved for repatriation is included in the Advisory Board meeting minutes and distributed to the College’s senior Administrative staff.

7.  Written documentation of the justification and process of repatriation for each object shall be permanently maintained in the Museum records.

Methods of Repatriation

The Director makes the final decision as to the method of repatriation to be pursued.

The following methods may be considered for repatriation:

  • Physical transfer of object to claimant;
  • Transfer of credit line to claimant and retention of object on long-term loan (with clearly  defined appropriate uses);    
  • Joint ownership of object with clearly defined parameters of use.


Please contact  Abigail Hoover, Associate Director of Registration and Collections, at