On August 23, the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture will open a new exhibition explaining the Repatriation, or return, of Native American Ancestral Remains and cultural items back to their proper cultural communities.

The exhibition is sponsored by the Tennessee Valley Authority and produced in collaboration with Chickasaw Nation, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, and the University of Tennessee Office of Repatriation.

Throughout the exhibition, the museum examines the legal and ethical principles of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), passed into federal law by Congress in 1990. NAGPRA mandates all institutions receiving federal funding provide federally recognized Tribes with a list of Native American Ancestral Remains, burial, sacred, and other culturally significant items for possible Repatriation.

The exhibition reimagines the 22-year-old Native Peoples of Tennessee gallery to highlight the vital role of Repatriation in preserving and commemorating Indigenous cultures. This transformation is the result of the museum’s desire to be transparent with the public and to strengthen relationships with Native Nations.

“The McClung Museum sees this as a starting point to building lasting, respectful relationships with important Native Nation partners,” said Claudio Gómez, executive director of the McClung Museum. “These relationships will help open the door to more collaborative efforts with Native communities in research, programming, cultural and environmental preservation, and exhibitions.”

The updated gallery walls feature interpretive panels and quotes from Native representatives and scholars explaining the process of NAGPRA and the importance of the law as an expression of sovereignty and human rights for Native communities in the United States. Visitors to the exhibition will notice many items previously on display have been removed as a part of the Repatriation process or out of respect following conversation with Native Nations partners.

“This exhibition is a window into the complexities and healing that can occur when institutions work through NAGPRA and create true partnerships with Native Nations,” said Dakota Brown, Director of Education at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina. “These objects are direct connections to our ancestors who created them, held them, and buried loved ones with them; the impact of bringing them home is why so many Native activists fought and continue to advocate for NAGPRA legislation. Partnerships like those the McClung Museum is cultivating with Native Nations, including the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, have the potential to bridge the gap in understandings of our culture and community.”

The museum will present a series of public programs about Repatriation throughout the upcoming school year. Find more information on the museum’s website: mcclungmuseum.utk.edu.

About the McClung Museum 
The McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture is at 1327 Circle Park Drive. Museum admission is free, and visiting hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Visitors should register at tiny.utk.edu/visitmcclung and review the visitor guidelines, parking information, and check-in process.