Collectors often ask what to do if they have inherited or acquired Native American ancestral remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, or cultural patrimony [hereinafter cultural items], and wish to return them.
The best course of action is to contact the tribe associated with the remains or cultural items, request a consultation, and proceed with the tribe, as requested. Remember, the tribes are the experts of their own culture! Some things to note:
- Always remain respectful. It may be helpful to review this Culture Card: A Guide to Build Cultural Awareness to start to better understand tribal communities.
- The Native Nation or Indigenous community may need time to make their own preparations for the repatriation. This may not only include logistics and gathering resources, but attending to cultural and spiritual preparations, which all may take time. Do not be discouraged by this process.
- Remember that tribal communities are usually most interested in seeing the return of their Ancestors and cultural items. While the process may be new to you, most tribes have designated repatriation officers who will help you through the process.
- Each tribe is different, with a different set of cultural beliefs and languages. While one tribe may repatriate Ancestral remains, another may not wish to do so. Remember that there are over 567 federally recognized tribes in the United States and they cannot be assumed to have a singular culture.
- Contact information for tribal leadership may be found in the Tribal Leaders Directory. We suggest that you first contact tribal leaders to obtain the name and contact information for the repatriation officer or the Tribal Historic Preservation department.