NAGPRA herein collectively refers to a series of legislation surrounding the repatriation of Native American human remains and cultural items. The legislation was first enacted in 1990 at the federal level and then expanded by California in 2001 and amendments thereafter. Here we review the legislation and where Cal Poly Humboldt is and has been with compliance.

Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) is a federal law enacted in 1990 and implemented in 1995 (CFR Title 43, Subtitle A, Part 10). Federal NAGPRA established requirements and processes for federally-funded agencies and museums to repatriate Native American human remains and cultural items in their collections. The law also established processes for how to address new discoveries on Federal or (federally-recognized) tribal lands after 1990. 

NAGPRA pertains to the following, as defined in CFR Title 43, Subtitle A, Part 10:

  1. "Human remains means the physical remains of the body of a person of Native American ancestry….

  2. Funerary objects means items that, as part of the death rite or ceremony of a culture, are reasonably believed to have been placed intentionally at the time of death or later with or near individual human remains…. Funerary objects include: (i) Associated funerary objects... for which the human remains with which they were placed intentionally are also in the possession or control of a museum or Federal agency… [and those] ... that were made exclusively for burial purposes or to contain human remains. (ii) Unassociated funerary objects … for which the human remains with which they were placed intentionally are not in the possession or control of a museum or Federal agency…

  3. Sacred objects means items that are specific ceremonial objects needed by traditional Native American religious leaders for the practice of traditional Native American religions by their present-day adherents. While many items, from ancient pottery sherds to arrowheads, might be imbued with sacredness in the eyes of an individual, these regulations are specifically limited to objects that were devoted to a traditional Native American religious ceremony or ritual and which have religious significance or function in the continued observance or renewal of such ceremony...

  4. Objects of cultural patrimony means items having ongoing historical, traditional, or cultural importance central to the Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization itself, rather than property owned by an individual tribal or organization member. These objects are of such central importance that they may not be alienated, appropriated, or conveyed by any individual tribal or organization member. Such objects must have been considered inalienable by the culturally affiliated Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization at the time the object was separated from the group. Objects of cultural patrimony include items such as Zuni War Gods, the Confederacy Wampum Belts of the Iroquois, and other objects of similar character and significance to the Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization as a whole."

Please see CFR Title 43, Subtitle A, Part 10 for unabbreviated definitions.

To fall under NAGPRA, remains and cultural items must be “indigenous to Alaska, Hawaii, and the continental United States” and either: “(i) In Federal possession or control; or (ii) In the possession or control of any institution or State or local government receiving Federal funds; or (iii) Excavated intentionally or discovered inadvertently on Federal or tribal lands.” (Title 43, Subtitle A, Part 10). NAGPRA does not apply to unassociated funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony “...obtained with the voluntary consent of an individual or group that had authority of alienation…” (Title 43, Subtitle A, Part 10). 

When enacted in 1990, Federal NAGPRA required that federally-funded agencies and museums initially provide a summary by 1993 and an inventory by 1995. The terms Inventory and summary are used in specific ways that are important for understanding NAGPRA (and subsequent CalNAGPRA) protocols:

  1. Summary means the written description of collections that may contain unassociated funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony required by § 10.8 of these regulations.” (Title 43, Subtitle A, Part 10).
  2. Inventory means the item-by-item description of human remains and associated funerary objects.” (Title 43, Subtitle A, Part 10).

California Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (CalNAGPRA)

In 2001, Assembly Bill (AB) 978 signed into law the California Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (CalNAGPRA). CalNAGPRA expanded federal NAGPRA by requiring state-funded agencies and museums to comply. Provisions centered around consistency with federal NAGPRA while resolving some ambiguities in favor of Native Americans. CalNAGPRA further expanded NAGPRA by defining “California Indian Tribe” to include both federally-recognized Tribes (as per federal NAGPRA) and also included Tribes in California not recognized by the federal government. 

In 2020, AB-275 amended CalNAGPRA. Key changes included that it: (1) expanded types of evidence that may be used to establish affiliation to include tribal traditional knowledge; (2) expanded eligibility for Tribes that are not federally recognized; (3) required agencies to consult with Tribes at multiple stages of the process and to gain concurrence with inventories and summaries before they are finalized; and (4) required campuses to create/update an inventory and summary, as applicable, by January 2022 and provide them to the Native American Heritage Commission (NAHC) by April, 2022. 

In 2023, AB 389 further amended CalNAGPRA, requiring the California State University (CSU) system, of which Cal Poly Humboldt is part, “comply with various requirements regarding the handling, maintenance, and repatriation of Native American human remains and cultural items” under CalNAGPRA. AB 389 requires that the CSU system adopt and implement “systemwide policies that, among other things, prohibit the use of any Native American human remains or cultural items for purposes of teaching or research at the California State University while in the possession of a California State University campus or museum.”  The amendment also establishes guidelines for the composition of campus CalNAGPRA committees.

NAGPRA, CalNAGPRA, and Cal Poly Humboldt

To our knowledge, the collections currently housed by Anthropology are the only collections on campus with items applicable to NAGPRA/CalNAGPRA. However, a campus survey is planned for 2024, to ensure that no such items are located within collections housed outside of Anthropology.

The collections include no Native American human bones or other Native American human remains. An initial review of the collections was conducted between 2020-2022, at which time it was estimated that the collections are composed 23,079 cultural items, including: stone tools (73 projectile points, 94 simple flake tools, 143 bifaces, 25 formed flaked tools, 40 pieces of groundstone), 221 pieces of faunal (nonhuman animal) bone, and 4796 shell fragments. The remainder (majority) of the collections is most likely debitage – the byproduct produced during the creation of stone tools. The exact number of total items and items of each type needs to be confirmed and updated in consultation with Tribes. 

These collections were generated primarily by past faculty and staff – primarily archaeologists working under the Anthropology Department and the Center for Indian Community Development – both directly and from accepted donations. Collections stemming from archaeological excavations with known history were conducted following applicable laws and in consultation with, and as applicable with consent of, appropriate Tribes. Approximately one-third of the collections were donated by a local Tribe for teaching purposes (these items are no longer being used for teaching). To the knowledge of the Anthropology Department and its Cultural Resources Facility, which has been working to ascertain the history of the collections, none were gathered without permission and no requests for repatriation have been denied. However, more work is needed to understand the circumstances surrounding some items, namely those accessioned in the 1980’s and 1990’s by persons now unreachable. We have identified the provenance of all items with the exception of a few artifacts.

Specifically regarding compliance with NAGPRA and CalNAGPRA:

Cal Poly Humboldt unequivocally supports NAGPRA and CalNAGPRA and is committed to ethical and respectful care and culturally appropriate treatment of cultural items. We recognize that historical practices within and related to academia have caused harm. We are committed to the ongoing acknowledgement and repair of this harm. We aim for full transparency and to center consultation with Tribes. It is our goal to achieve the repatriation/disposition of all affiliated items in the collections - not only items that specifically fall under NAGPRA/CalNAGPRA, but also other items that do not meet the legal definitions but are of interest to affiliated Tribes.

Cal Poly Humboldt does not have any Native American human remains or, to our knowledge, associated funerary items. Thus, no inventories were completed by 1993 and 1995 as per federal NAGPRA. We will be submitting a statement of no inventory for both Federal NAGPRA and the California NAHC.

To our knowledge, we do not have any items that meet NAGPRA or CalNAGPRA’s strict definitions of funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony. However, we recognize that: (1) the items in possession are still important and meaningful regardless; (2) the definitions are minimum standards and we need to do more than the minimum and interpret the definitions broadly; (3) it is the purview of Tribes to determine whether items meet the definitions and, even if not, to determine the fate of the items.

To this end, from 2021-2022, faculty and staff in the Anthropology Department and its Cultural Resources Facility worked to catalog everything in the collections, without exception even including small pieces of debitage and fragments of shell. During the 2023 state audit of the California University system, we reported 23,079 cultural items (described above) potentially subject to NAGPRA. 

In Spring 2023, Cal Poly Humboldt began to reach out to Tribes with cultural affiliation to the collections in order to initiate consultation. In on-site consultations with two Tribes, we were not informed that any materials are known to be from sacred sites - however, consultation is still in progress and we reiterate that these materials still hold cultural significance to descendant communities.

In the latter half of 2023, we focused on searching for a full-time NAGPRA coordinator to lead NAGPRA efforts - the full-time coordinator, Megan Watson, began January 2024. Interim coordinators from Anthropology at the Cultural resources facility had held the position since January, 2022. The campus is working to establish a NAGPRA committee and aims to have it in place by early 2024. In 2024, efforts will focus on refining campus policies and broadly engaging Tribes in efforts to document and repatriate the collections. We will be submitting updated summaries, developed in consultation with Tribes, to the NAHC. Summaries will also be submitted to the National Parks Service as per Federal NAGPRA.

Collections that are potentially subject to NAGPRA and CalNAGPRA are not used for research or teaching and are kept in secure climate-controlled facilities. All Tribes are welcome to visit our facilities, and we have funding to support visits.

Questions? Please contact the Cal Poly Humboldt NAGPRA Program Coordinator at

We acknowledge that Cal Poly Humboldt is located on the unceded lands of the Wiyot people, where they have resided from time immemorial. We encourage all to gain a deeper understanding of their history and thriving culture. As an expression of our gratitude we are genuinely committed to developing trusting, reciprocal, and long lasting partnerships with the Wiyot people as well as all of our neighboring tribes.