National Museum of the American Indian Act

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National Museum
of the American Indian Act
Great Seal of the United States
Long title National Museum of the American Indian Act
Acronyms (colloquial) NMAIA
Enacted by the 101st United States Congress
Public Law Pub.L. 101–185
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the House by Daniel Inouye[1] (D-Hawaii) on July 10, 1990
  • Committee consideration by House Interior
  • Passed the House on November 28, 1989 (voice vote)
  • Passed the Senate on November 28, 1989 (voice vote) with amendment
  • House agreed to Senate amendment on November 28, 1989 (without objection)
  • Signed into law by President George H. W. Bush on November 16, 1989

The National Museum of the American Indian Act (NMAIA) was enacted on November 28, 1989, as Public Law 101-185. The law established the National Museum of the American Indian as part of the Smithsonian Institution. This law also required the Secretary of the Smithsonian to prepare an inventory of all Indian and Native Hawaiian human remains and funerary objects in Smithsonian collections, as well as consider the repatriation of these items to federally recognized Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations.

The Smithsonian Institution[edit]

The NMAIA expands the Smithsonian Institution by authorizing erection of a new museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to house Native American artifacts from the Heye Foundation's Museum of the American Indian. In recognition of the Heye Foundation's origins in New York, the George Gustave Heye Center of the National Museum of the American Indian was also created by the NMAIA in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in New York City.

The purpose of the NMAI is threefold:

  • To advance the study of Native Americans
  • To collect, preserve, and exhibit Native American objects
  • To provide for Native American research and study programs

Inventory and repatriation[edit]

Prior to enactment of the NMAIA, representatives of the Native American Rights Fund and the Association for Native American Affairs told Congressional staffers that they would oppose the bill if repatriation provisions were not included. At an August, 1989, meeting in Santa Fe, NM, Secretary of the Smithsonian Robert McCormick Adams, Jr., agreed that the Smithsonian would abide by new repatriation provisions.[2] As a result of the law, the Secretary of the Smithsonian is required to inventory Indian and Native Hawaiian human remains and funerary objects in the possession or control of the Smithsonian Institution and return them upon request by a descendant or culturally affiliated Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization. These artifacts are housed primarily in the National Museum of the American Indian, National Museum of Natural History, and National Museum of American History.

The Smithsonian had amassed a huge collection of Native American artifacts and memorabilia including:

  • 4,000 Native American remains. In 1867, the Surgeon General of the United States Army requested Army medical officers to send skeletal remains of Native Americans to the Army Medical Museum. These remains were later transferred to the Smithsonian Institution beginning in 1898.
  • Through archaeological excavations, individual donations, and museum donations, the Smithsonian was able to acquire about 14,000 additional Native American remains.
  • The acquisition of the Heye Foundation's collections added 800,000 artifacts to the Smithsonian's Native American collections.

Repatriation criteria[edit]

The 1989 act applied only to the repatriation of Indian and Native Hawaiian human remains and funerary objects. The NMAIA was amended in 1996 to include additional categories derived from the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act enacted in 1990, with similar definitions:

  • Human remains
  • Associated funerary objects
  • Unassociated funerary objects
  • Sacred objects
  • Objects of cultural patrimony

The 1996 amendment also established specific deadlines for the Smithsonian complete its summary and inventory tasks. The National Museum of Natural History posted collection summaries on its website. By 2007, the remains of 18.568 individuals had been identified. Of these, remains representing 5,435 individuals (29%) had been offered for repatriation to linenl descendants or culturally affiliated Indian lribes or Native Hawaiian organizations. By 1996, the National Museum of the American Indian had identified the remains of 524 individuals in its collection, of which 227 (41%) had already been repatriated.[3]



  1. ^ Bureau of Indian Affairs, Daniel L. Fixico, Page 161
  2. ^ McKeown, C.T., In the Smaller Scope of Conscience: the Struggle for National Repatriation Legislation, 1986-1990 (2012) University of Arizona Press ISBN 9780816526871.
  3. ^ McKeown, C.T., Repatriation, Handbook of North American Indians, volume 2, 2008.

Further reading

  • Watkins, Joe. "Representing and Repatriating the Past", North American Archaeology 2005. Blackwell Publishing.

External links[edit]