Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. Photo: Wvfunnyman

Few fines under Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act

In the 28 years since the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act became law, the federal government has collected less than $30,000 in fines, The Associated Press reports, despite widespread complaints of non-compliance.

Federal agencies, universities, museums and other institutions that receive federal funds are supposed to complete inventories of their collections, notify tribes and repatriate ancestors and artifacts to tribes and lineal descendants. But not everyone complies with the law, with Marshall University in West Virginia agreeing to pay a $4,999 fine for taking nearly 30 years to complete an inventory of items connected to more than 200 tribes.

“The university is actively continuing the process of completing all necessary NAGPRA requirements and looks forward to a successful conclusion to this matter,” a spokesperson for the university told the AP. Tribes in Alaska appear to represent the vast majority of the collection in West Virginia.

The AP said the fine is one of the largest since NAGPRA became law in 1990. Separately, the Bishop Museum in Hawaii paid $13,500 in a settlement, the AP reported.

According to the Government Accountability Office, universities, museums and other institutions aren't the only ones having trouble with NAGPRA. Key federal agencies are also moving slowly to inventory their collections and consult with tribes and lineal descendants, reports issued in 2010 and 2011 stated.

But NAGPRA only authorizes fines against non-federal entities. The law uses the term "museum" in a section about penalties, making no mention about federal agencies that fail to comply.

Section 9 of NAGPRA reads:
"The amount of a penalty assessed ..
shall be determined under regulations
promulgated pursuant to this Act, taking into account, in addition to
other factors--
(1) the archaeological, historical, or commercial value of the item involved;
(2) the damages suffered, both economic and noneconomic, by an aggrieved party, and
(3) the number of violations that have occurred.

According to Archaeology Almanac, a museum can be fined $6,533, plus an additional $1,307 per day, for non-compliance. Prior to a 2015 federal law that increased penalties government-wide, the caps were $5,000 and $1,000, respectively.

To view summaries of NAGPRA inventories by tribe or by institution, visit

Read More on the Story:
University Fined for Violating Indian Remains Law (The Associated Press May 6, 2018)

Government Accountability Office Report -- Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act: After Almost 20 Years, Key Federal Agencies Still Have Not Fully Complied with the Act:
Summary | Highlights | Full Report

Government Accountability Office Report --Key Federal Agencies' and the Smithsonian Institution's Efforts to Identify and Repatriate Indian Human Remains and Objects:
Highlights | Full Report

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