Federal laws in 1989 and 1990 require all federal agencies and museums that receive federal funding to inventory the human remains, burial remains, and items of cultural patrimony that they possess, and to notify Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations about these items. 20 U.S.C. 80q; 25 U.S.C. 3000-3013. The goal behind these laws is to return such items to the proper Indian tribes, Native Hawaiian organizations, and native individuals.
Similarly, Yale University recently returned items to Peru that were taken by Yale researchers from Machu Picchu in the early 1900s.
Also, on March 10, it was reported that the remains of 138 indigenous people from the Torres Strait Islands in Australia are set to be repatriated from the London Natural History Museum.
The museum agreed to return the skeletal remains to the islands after holding talks with Indigenous leaders and the Australian government over the last 18 months.
Ned David, a representative of the Torres Strait Islands (TSI) community, said islanders were “deeply touched” by the decision to repatriate the ancestral remains, most of which were removed from a cave locals held sacred. “The return of our ancestors… is a key step in the healing process for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from injustices committed against our people in the past,” he said.
Richard Lane, Director of Science at the Natural History Museum, said he was pleased the museum had been able to work closely with the TSI community for the first time.
The Natural History Museum has a collection of around 20,000 human remains including teeth, hair, bones and entire skeletons, some of which date to the prehistoric era.