The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) is a Federal Law passed in 1990 to protect Native American graves, human remains, and certain items of cultural importance. For centuries, colonizers looted Indigenous Peoples’ graves and sacred sites to display and research human remains, and other cultural artifacts without permission. NAGPRA sought to correct this at the institutions that receive federal funding. All institutions are required to report on their collections and repatriate (return) human remains and sacred artifacts to the appropriate lineal descendants, culturally affiliated Native American tribes, or Native Hawaiian organizations.

In January 2024, new additions to NAGPRA went into effect in recognition that the original legislation overlooked certain areas. This update expedites the repatriation process and provides a five-year timeline for compliance. It also expands the types of artifacts that fall under NAGPRA to include those of cultural patrimony. These are artifacts with cultural significance to such a degree that they belong to a group or entire culture and cannot be owned by a single person or outside of that culture. The 2024 update also requires “free, prior, and informed consent [from Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations] before any exhibition of, access to, or research on human remains or cultural items” (§10.1(d) Duty of Care).

DCHS and NAGPRA: Building an Ethical Collection

The Dubuque County Historical Society (DCHS) is committed to following NAGPRA in alignment with our core values of inclusivity and integrity, and our vision of “interpreting and protecting life, history, and culture” and recognizes the law as the minimum requirement to building an ethical collection. We are currently reviewing our documentation and the artifacts in our collection to identify objects that may be applicable to the 2024 NAGPRA update that will need consultation with Indigenous Nations to determine if repatriation is needed. 

Support our NAGPRA efforts Here


Will this affect my museum visit?

There will be no direct impact on your visit. All exhibits remain open; however, there may be some changes to current exhibits, including signage or artifacts coming on and off display.

Will exhibits be closed or covered?

While changes will be made there are no plans to cover exhibits.

Does the museum have human remains?

There are no human remains in the collection.

What does this change mean for the museum?

The recent amendment requires a review of previous work so that we can obtain informed consent for research and display of artifacts, which we are in the process of doing.

How did the museum get its Indigenous artifacts?

The majority of our Indigenous artifacts were accessioned through early donations from local collections such as Richard Herrmann.  It is unknown how these original collections were acquired, which is the work we are doing today.

How long does the NAGPRA process take?

The process can take years and will depend on multiple factors including staffing, funding, and other resources. The River Museum is dedicated to being thorough and will apply for an extension if the work is beyond the five years mandated by the Act.

You can donate here in support of our efforts to build a more ethical and inclusive collection.

Donate Here

For NAGPRA inquiries, please contact Emma Sundberg, Director of Curatorial Services at