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Repatriation at the National Museum of Health and Medicine

The U.S. Congress passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) in November 1990, requiring institutions receiving federal funding to report on the holding of Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony.

Although at one time the Army Medical Museum (AMM) -- forerunner of the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM) -- held extensive collections of Native American and Native Hawaiian human remains, the AMM transferred more than 3,000 sets of human remains to the Smithsonian Institution between 1900 and 1904.

The purpose of these exchanges was to transfer the non-pathological human remains to the Smithsonian Institution; the AMM would only retain specimens demonstrating pathology or trauma. Today, the NMHM holds a very limited number of Native American human remains, and almost all document trauma or pathology.

In response to NAGPRA, the NMHM has provided summaries of cultural items and inventories of culturally affiliated and culturally unaffiliated human remains to more than 250 federally recognized tribes and native organizations. To date, eight Notices of Inventory Completion have been published and four repatriations to culturally affiliated tribes have occurred.