How to Submit a Request

How to Submit a Domestic Repatriation Request via NAGPRA:

Step 1: Request for Information

Official tribal representatives submit a request for information pertaining to their cultural group or area. This request should come on formal letter head that names the inquiring individual as a NAGPRA coordinator, tribal representative, or equivalent position. Letters should be addressed to:

June Carpenter
NAGPRA Director
Field Museum
1400 S. DuSable Lake Shore Dr.
Chicago, IL 60605

Or, they can be sent as an email attachment to

Along with this letter, it would be helpful if the initial contact would indicate the geographical and cultural areas for which the representative seeks information and any alternative spellings or versions of the tribe’s name. 

Once the Museum has received this information, we will send a basic catalog inventory of the items and human remains pertaining to the tribe/s or areas identified. We will also provide provisional information about the Museum’s procedures and the repatriation process under NAGPRA.

Step 2: Preliminary Consultation

During this phase, repatriation staff will be available to provide further information concerning items from the collections inventory in order to help the tribe determine which items or human remains they would like to more information about.

During both the preliminary and formal consultation process, we encourage tribes and groups to visit the Museum in order to consult in person with repatriation staff. The staff at the Field Museum are able to provide letters of support for NAGPRA consultation grants or undertake proposal development at the request of the tribe or group.

Step 3: Formal Request and Formal Consultation

Once the tribe or group has identified the items or human remains that they believe fall under one or more NAGPRA categories, they need to send a formal letter detailing which items or human remains they wish to request and under what NAGPRA category. If possible and appropriate, they should also include any information that would be helpful to repatriation staff including details about cultural affiliation, NAGPRA category, right of possession, and oral or traditional knowledge.

Upon the receipt of the request letter, the Field Museum will send a formal response letter acknowledging the request. It is at this point that any material on display will be removed if requested pending the consultation process.

Step 4: Repatriation Program Research and Report

Staff from the Center for Repatriation at the Field Museum will conduct research into the items or human remains requested for repatriation in consultation with knowledge holders in the tribe and, if appropriate, with pertinent experts in the academic world. As stated under NAGPRA, the Museum will take into consideration Native beliefs and oral traditions as evidence for a request.

In the case of human remains currently considered to be culturally unidentifiable, a group or tribe may request the disposition of the individuals as required under 43 CFR 10.11 - Disposition of culturally unidentifiable human remains.

Once research has been conducted, repatriation program staff members will write a report providing background on the items or human remains and submit a recommendation based on all the evidence. This report will be circulated to the following: relevant anthropology department leaders, the Vice-President of Collections, Conservation, and Research, General Counsel's Office, and the Museum President who will all submit their own recommendation. After which, all of these materials will be presented to the Repatriation Subcommittee of the Board of Trustees.

Step 5: Decision on Repatriation Request

The Repatriation Subcommittee will review the request packet, presented by the Center for Repatriation that will also include the General Counsel’s report, and all of the recommendations. The Subcommittee will make a decision on the repatriation or disposition of items and human remains.

Step 6: Publication in Federal Register and Waiting Period

If the items or human remains are approved for repatriation under NAGPRA, a notice must be published in the Federal Register. This will take the form of a Notice of Inventory Completion (NIC) for human remains and associated funerary objects or a Notice of Intent to Repatriate (NIR) for unassociated funerary objects, objects of cultural patrimony, and/or sacred objects. The notice should be published in the Federal Register within 90 days of being received.

After publication, there is a mandated 30-day waiting period during which other claimants to the remains or cultural items may come forward.

Step 7: Physical Repatriation

If no other group comes forward, the Museum and tribe or group may move forward with physical repatriation. Museum staff can provide letters of support for repatriation grants or submit a grant proposal at the request of the tribe in order to facilitate the physical return of the items or human remains. 

If a Notice of Inventory Completion has already been published for the requested remains or associated funerary objects, then the Museum has 90 days to respond to the request for repatriation, at which point the remains and funerary objects can be physically repatriated as approved by the Repatriation Subcommittee. 


How to Submit an International Repatriation Request:

Since 1989, the Field Museum has followed its own policy for requests not covered under NAGPRA. This policy, revised in 2011, covers international requests and those made by lineal descendants for human remains and associated funerary objects. The process for consulting on international requests is similar to that listed above for NAGPRA requests. For descendant communities, we require an official letter on letterhead that identifies the cultural group and the persons authorized by the community to request information about human remains and associated funerary objects from a specific group or geographic region. For lineal descendants, we require a letter that identifies the individual or individuals and/or associated funerary items that are cared for at the Museum. The letter writer should indicate how they are related to those individuals and funerary items.

For descendant communities, after the preliminary consultation, during which individuals and associated funerary items are identified for repatriation, we then require a formal request letter. This letter must be on letterhead and signed by the authorized representative of the requesting group. If there is more than one descendant group, we ask that each group send a signed letter of support or co-sign the original claim letter. The request letter should specifically identify the human remains and associated funerary items that are being requested, address cultural affiliation, and affirm the intent to place the human remains in permanent repose after repatriation. Once we have an official claim letter that meets all of the requirements, the repatriation program will produce a report to be circulated through the relevant anthropology department leaders and then presented to the Repatriation Subcommittee of the Board of Trustees who will determine whether or not the request fulfils the requirements of the policy.

In the case of a lineal descent claim, the requestor must demonstrate descent by genealogy or cultural practice and submit this information to the Repatriation Program. Lineal descent requests will be reviewed by the appropriate leadership and presented to the Repatriation Subcommittee of the Board for their recommendation.

Under NAGPRA, there is a built-in notification system that allows for other tribes, groups, or nations to come forward and make competing claims. In order to replicate this with international requests, the Field Museum encourages making some type of announcement in order to ensure that no other groups wish to make a competing claim. This announcement can take different forms and can be negotiated depending on the sensitivities surrounding the request.