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The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act is Waived for Border Wall

It wasn’t very long ago that Native American burial sites were frequently dug up (inadvertently or on purpose), and their burial objects and human remains were taken from the sites and sold. Native Americans pushed for a law that would protect their dead and the funerary and sacred objects buried with them. In 1990, at long last, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was passed by Congress, to protect the graves of Native Americans on federal lands.

NAGPRA had three specific purposes. The first required that federal agencies and institutions (like museums) receiving federal funding return excavated burial items (funerary objects, human remains, etc.) to the lineal descendants of the dead. Second, tribes had to be notified when any excavation on federal land encountered (or might encounter) Native American remains. If so, the excavation was directed to follow the proper procedures for such excavations, designated by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (another federal law that has been waived). The tribe then made the final decision about the disposition of the items unearthed. And third, NAGPRA prohibited trafficking in human remains and set stiff penalties for doing so.

NAGPRA is one of the 48 federal laws waived to expedite construction of a border wall (click here to see a list of all federal laws that have been waived). Since the waiver was authorized, fragments of human remains have been observed in the tire tracks of equipment used for border barrier construction on the Tohono O'odham Nation. If archaeological clearance had been performed in advance, as required by NAGPRA, the human remains would have been retrieved and properly handled before the construction equipment arrived. Since the waiver, however, there is no penalty for digging up, destroying, or stealing funerary objects or human remains in the vicinity of wall construction. The dead of Native Americans are no longer guaranteed to rest undisturbed and in peace.

Please contact your U.S. Senators and Representatives ( and let them know that you oppose waiving The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to expedite construction of a border wall. Click here if you would like to make a donation to help us fight the border wall.

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