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Over the last 100 years, federal Indian law and policy has come a long way from U.S. funded policies meant to destroy the structures of autonomy, governance, and security of Native Nations to forcibly assimilate Native peoples into its melting pot. These federal actions have been declared by U.S. leaders as acts of genocide, meant to stamp out and eradicate Native Nations altogether. 

The Association on American Indian Affairs has been an advocate for Indian Country over the last 100 years working to reverse the effects of these genocidal and assimilationist policies through changes to federal Indian law and policy towards self-determination and sovereignty. The Association has positively impacted Indian Country through its efforts to support Tribal governance reforms, protect the integrity of Native familial structures, protect Sacred Places, language revitalization efforts, assist in the return of stolen cultural heritage, and provide meaningful opportunities for Native youth to achieve greatness and stay close to culture. Unfortunately, there is still much work to be done to make fundamental and systemic changes from the highest levels, and much healing that remains at the grassroots level to improve the health and well-being of Native Nations.

The Association is empowered and guided by the concept of #EverythingBack as an intentional movement towards reconciliation, reparation, return – healing and making whole – of everything that was stolen, taken, and looted without free, prior, and informed consent. #EverythingBack is about shared values for the environment, diversity, family and community. #EverythingBack is a call to action to Indian Country, our allies, and supporters to stand united and demand that the very things that make us who we are as human beings and autonomous sovereign Nations, are returned. This movement is for the healing of Native Nations and their citizens, as well as a healing for all of us as we take accountability in our roles to take care of the Earth, and one another.

The return of our Ancestors, their burial belongings and sacred and cultural objects is a significant part of the #EverythingBack movement. Repatriation demands that all parties involved – institutions, collectors, dealers, federal agencies, Tribal governments, attorneys, academics – be truth-tellers and healers by requiring that each one of us be accountable for our past and committed to our future. It is not just the right thing to do, but repatriation is also governed by various federal, state and Tribal laws.

Tribal Nations have never given away their inherent sovereignty to maintain their cultures and religions. Thus, it is against the law to have Native American Ancestors’ human remains, burial belongings, sacred and cultural objects unless there is a clear right of possession obtained directly from a Tribal Nation. It is illegal to sell our looted and stolen items. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) mandates that agencies and institutions cannot have these items unless they have a “right of possession” – meaning that the Tribe must have given its voluntary consent to allow such an item to leave the Tribe’s possession. Yet, there are still 116,000 Ancestors’ human remains and hundreds of thousands of other funerary objects and cultural heritage items in boxes and drawers held by U.S. institutions and agencies. In addition, auction houses and dealers continue to sell our sensitive cultural heritage items around the world without proper proof that the seller has such a right of possession – and there are very few dealers and auction houses that will work with Tribes to determine whether items have been looted or stolen. 

But the law is changing to strengthen protections for Native American cultural heritage, as are perspectives from institutions in the U.S. and all over the world. In the U.S., Congress has drafted the Safeguarding Objects of Patrimony Act to protect against the exportation of cultural heritage. The U.S. Department of the Interior is working with Tribes on comprehensive revisions of the NAGPRA regulations. There is also a strong movement to amend NAGPRA to broaden compliance and enforcement measures. In other countries, like the Netherlands, Germany and France, there are decolonization movements to return items that were taken during colonization eras.  

The Association is hosting its 7th Annual Repatriation Conference themed “Accountable to Our Past, Committed to Our Future. The Conference will feature three weeks of special events, keynote speakers, cultural events, panels and educational opportunities for all of those interested in repatriation of Native American cultural heritage. The Conference will provide a welcoming and productive virtual space for truth-telling about the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual burden that Native Nations continue to face as a direct result of the theft of their diverse cultures and human rights. 

For more information on the 7th Annual Repatriation Conference, visit  indian-affairs.org/7thannualconference. Also, please see the most up to date agenda at indian-affairs.org/agenda

You can attend for free through the generous support of our sponsors. Fill out our scholarship application by October 25th to receive a link to register for free and have full access to all events, networking and opportunities Nov. 1 through Nov. 19, and access to the Conference recordings through February 2022! 

And, to view the scholarship application: indian-affairs.org/conferencescholarships

Join us on this journey to learn more, find unity and demand #EverythingBack! 

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