Smithsonian Repatriation Programs (NMAI, NMNH, and NMAH)

National Museum of the American Indian Act

There are two different federal laws that mandate repatriation programs. This section is for the programs administered by the Smithsonian Institution for activities carried out by the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), National Museum of Natural History (NMHN), and the National Museum of American History (NMAH).
Click here for more information on the U.S. Department of Interior repatriation programs.

Smithsonian Institution

Repatriation activities of the Smithsonian Institution are governed by Public Law 101-185, the National Museum of the American Indian. In addition to creating the NMAI, the Act requires the Smithsonian to create and carry out an institution-wide repatriation policy regarding Indian and Native Hawaiian human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony. The NMAI Amendments Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-278) added specific repatriation provisions.


2011 Goverment Accountability Office (GAO) Report:
“Smithsonian Institution: Much Work Still Needed to Identify and Repatriate Indian Human Remains and Objects”

Repatriation provisions of the NMAI Act of 1989 generally require the Smithsonian Institution to inventory and identify the origins of its Indian human remains and objects placed with them and repatriate them to culturally affiliated Indian tribes upon request. This report, which was publicly released on May 25, 2011, lists four executive recommendations for the SI’s Board of Regents’ consideration.
Click here to read the NATHPO press release on this report.
Click here to read the 65-page report
Note: You can read the GAO recommendations and status of implementation on the GAO website for this report.


For the past three years, NATHPO has been advocating that the U.S. Congress allocate $1.25 million for Smithsonian Institution repatriation activities, including the NMNH Review Committee and repatriation office. NATHPO included this statement in testimony on the President’s Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Request before the House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee.
Click here for copy of NATHPO’s FY2015 testimony


The Smithsonian Institution

National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI)
The National Museum of the American Indian, established by Congress in 1989, is dedicated to the preservation, exhibition and study of the life and culture of Native Americans. It is one of the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, an independent trust of the United States. The website offers information about exhibits, events, educational programs, repatriation and has extensive links to other resources related to Native Americans.
Click here for more information on NMAI repatriation activities.

National Museum of the Natural History (NMNH)

The National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) is part of the Smithsonian
Institution and is dedicated to inspiring curiosity, discovery, and learning
about the natural world through its unparalleled research, collections,
exhibitions, and education outreach programs. Opened in 1910, the
green-domed museum on the National Mall was among the first Smithsonian
building constructed exclusively to house the national collections and
research facilities. The NMNH repatriation office is located within the museum’s Department of Anthropology.
Click here for more information on NMNH repatriation activities
Click here for information on the Native American Repatriation Review Committee (managed by NMNH)