Colorado tribes develop NAGPRA protocol

The following information comes from the Southern Ute Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Colorado Historical Society and the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs.

The U.S. Department of the Interior has approved a proposed solution to an ongoing issue regarding culturally unidentifiable Native American human remains from lands in Colorado.

Under current federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and Colorado state law, there is no clear avenue for repatriating Native American remains and funerary objects found on state or private lands that cannot be culturally affiliated to a specific tribe. To address this issue, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs (CCIA) and the Colorado Historical Society formed a groundbreaking partnership and spearhead an initiative to develop the statewide protocol.

The four partners worked together under a National Park Service NAGPRA grant that was awarded to the Colorado Historical Society to host three regional consultations. Forty-seven tribes who have a legacy of occupation in Colorado were invited to participate. The consulting tribes now live in states ranging from South Dakota to Montana, and Oklahoma to Arizona, and many face similar issues in their home states.

"The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe has worked tirelessly on NAGPRA issues for over 15 years and this delicate matter has been a priority," stated Manuel Heart, Chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. "The success of this partnership resulted from a tribally-driven initiative that will set a benchmark for other states and agencies to follow."

The consultations resulted in a proposed protocol that works within both state and federal law to accomplish two major tasks: it shortens the time frame for repatriating inadvertently discovered Native American human remains and associated funerary objects found on Colorado state and private lands, and it makes possible the repatriation and reburial of culturally unidentifiable Native American human remains and associated funerary objects that come into the state's custody.

"We strongly believe that all inadvertently discovered remains should be returned to Mother Earth, and therefore the development of the protocol in partnership with State and Tribal leaders is a document that builds the road to better understanding of how we should honor those that have gone before us," noted Clement J. Frost, Chairman of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. "We stand ready to implement the process."

The Colorado partners presented the protocol to the National NAGPRA Review Committee for approval on November 3, 2006. The National Review Committee consists of seven members appointed by the Secretary of the Interior to oversee the implementation of NAGPRA law.

"CCIA was pleased to collaborate in a precedent-setting protocol that honors the beliefs of various intertribal groups who called Colorado home," said former Lt. Gov. Jane E. Norton, past chairwoman of the CCIA. "This experience enabled our two Ute Tribes and the Colorado Historical Society to successfully address this culturally and historically significant issue."

"This partnership and the resulting protocol demonstrates how effective dialogue among tribes, museums and state agencies can yield positive outcomes to ongoing concerns that are of mutual interest," noted Bridget Ambler, curator of Material Culture at the Colorado Historical Society. "The four partners and the consulting tribes will continue to build on this important agreement in future collaborations."

At press time, 36 of the 47 consulting tribes have sent in letters of participation for the Colorado process. The partners anticipate implementation of the protocol to begin within the next few months as the effort to include all consulting tribes continues.

Relevant Links:
National NAGPRA -

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