The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) is a Federal law enacted in 1990 to resolve and restore the rights of Native American lineal descendants and tribes to human remains and cultural items. NAGPRA authorizes Federal grants to Indian tribes, Native Hawaiian organizations, and museums to assist with the documentation and repatriation of Native American cultural items. NAGPRA establishes the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Review Committee to monitor the NAGPRA process and facilitate the resolution of disputes that may arise concerning repatriation under NAGPRA. Violations of NAGPRA are addressed through criminal and civil enforcement.

California NAGPRA (CalNAGPRA) state law was introduced in 2001 to aid the Federal NAGPRA and further the process of repatriation to California Native American Tribes. CalNAGPRA was passed with the intent to cover gaps in the federal NAGPRA specific to the State of California. In 2020, AB 275 was passed and signed to strengthen CalNAGPRA for non-federally recognized California Native American tribes and elevate the status of tribal traditional knowledge in determining cultural affiliation and identifying cultural items, among other changes to the law. CalNAGPRA runs concurrently with federal NAGPRA.

UC campuses hold Native American ancestral remains and cultural items subject to NAGPRA and CalNAGPRA. UC Santa Barbara is working with culturally-affiliated Tribes to return ancestral remains and cultural items.

(Note that much of the information on this page is taken directly from the National Parks Service and California State Parks.)

NAGPRA requires museums, agencies and universities to compile detailed summaries and inventories, consult with Native American tribes, and follow a process to return human remains and cultural items that meet the requirements outlined in the law and are claimed by a tribe or tribes.

NAGPRA covers five different categories: cultural items, human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony.

NAGPRA law states that lineal descendants, Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations are the eligible entities that can make NAGPRA claims.

NAGPRA does not require museums and Federal agencies to consult with non-federally recognized Indian groups. Non-federally recognized Indian groups may seek the return of Native American human remains and cultural items by working with Federally recognized Indian Tribes. CalNAGPRA seeks to strengthen the abilities of non-federally recognized California tribes. Please see the Native American Commission page on CalNAGPRA for a larger history of this state legislature. 

The following definitions are taken from the National Park Service's FAQ.

Cultural items  a funerary object, sacred object, or object of cultural patrimony according to the Native American traditional knowledge of a lineal descendant, Indian Tribe, or Native Hawaiian organization.

Human remains – any physical part of the body of a Native American individual. This term does not include human remains to which a museum or Federal agency can prove it has a right of possession.

  1. Human remains reasonably believed to be comingled with other materials (such as soil or faunal remains) may be treated as human remains.
  2. Human remains incorporated into a funerary object, sacred object, or object of cultural patrimony are considered part of the cultural items rather than human remains.
  3. Human remains incorporated into an object or item that is not a funerary object, sacred object, or object of cultural patrimony are considered human remains.

Funerary objects – any object reasonably believed to have been placed intentionally with or near human remains. A funerary object is any object connected, either at the time of death or later, to a death rite or ceremony of a Native American culture according to the Native American traditional knowledge of a lineal descendant, Indian Tribe, or Native Hawaiian organization. This term does not include any object returned or distributed to living persons according to traditional custom after a death rite or ceremony. Funerary objects are either associated funerary objects (AFOs) or unassociated funerary objects (UFOs).

Sacred objects – specific ceremonial object needed by a traditional religious leader for present-day adherents to practice traditional Native American religion, according to the Native American traditional knowledge of a lineal descendant, Indian Tribe, or Native Hawaiian organization. While items might be imbued with sacredness in a culture, this term is specifically limited to an object needed for the observance or renewal of a Native American religious ceremony.

Objects of cultural patrimony – an object that has ongoing historical, traditional, or cultural importance central to the Native American group, including any constituent sub-group (such as a band, clan, lineage, ceremonial society, or other subdivision), according to the Native American traditional knowledge of an Indian Tribe or Native Hawaiian organization. An object of cultural patrimony may have been entrusted to a caretaker, along with the authority to confer that responsibility to another caretaker. The object must be reasonably identified as being of such important central to the group that it:

  1. Cannot or could not be alienated, appropriated, or conveyed by any person, including its caretaker, regardless of whether the person is a member of the group, and
  2. Must have been considered inalienable by the group at the time the object was separated from the group.

Lineal descendant – an individual tracing his, her, or their ancestry directly and without interruption by means of the traditional kinship system of the appropriate Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization or by the common law system to a known Native American individual whose remains, funerary objects, or sacred objects are being requested.

Indian tribe – any tribe, band, nation, or other organized group or community of Indians that is recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians. The Bureau of Indian Affairs publishes annually a list of Indian Tribes in the Federal Register. To find contact information and reservation boundary information, use the current Bureau of Indian Affair's Tribal Leaders Directory.

Native Hawaiian organization – any organization that: (a) serves and represents the interests of Native Hawaiians, (b) has as a primary and stated purpose the provision of services to Native Hawaiians, and (c) has expertise in Native Hawaiian Affairs, and includes the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The Department of the Interior has interpreted this definition to include 'ohanas (Native Hawaiian kin groups). A list of Native Hawaiian organizations that meet the above definition can be found at In accordance with Hawaii State law, the Island Burial Councils also maintain lists of appropriate Hawaiian organizations, agencies, and offices to notify regarding the discovery of human remains in the Hawaiian Islands.