Publication Date

Summer 8-21-2017


This dissertation examines the implementation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act by federal agencies. Specifically, it examines the processes that archaeologists, working in different geographic regions and for different federal agencies, use to complete NAGPRA actions and determine cultural affiliation. A total of nine case studies from two regions (US Southwest and Pacific Northwest) and three federal agencies (USDA Forest Service, National Park Service, and US Army Corps of Engineer) were used to document the complete NAGPRA process as it occurs in real situations, to identify the processes and lines of evidence used to complete those actions, to investigate variability in the overall process, to explore how those processes and determinations affect the field of archaeology, and to develop recommendations for the completion of NAGPRA actions.

The results of this research indicate that while tribal consultation plays out slightly differently in the two regions, there are few regional or agency differences in approach to complying with NAGPRA. Instead, there are a variety of issues that drive the complexity and efficiency of the process, regardless of where the action occurs. These include problems with collections and tribal consultation, lack of resources, and difficulty with cultural affiliation determinations. More significant determinants of variability, however, are issues associated with implementing the process as required by the regulations, fear of litigation, and internal bureaucracies.

Analysis of the case studies demonstrates that, while agencies are technically in compliance with the law, the last three issues result in problems with implementation of the regulations. Also, these case studies indicate that while complicated, determining cultural affiliation is not the biggest roadblock in the process. Instead, fear of litigation or internal bureaucracies often play a much larger role in slowing the process. Finally, an interesting outcome of this research was that, in general, the individuals who worked on these NAGPRA actions gained personal and professional satisfaction from this work. This indicates that the law is positively affecting the profession, even if those direct effects are on one person at a time.


NAGPRA, Cultural Resource Management, Federal, Native American, Compliance

Document Type




Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name


First Committee Member (Chair)

Patricia L. Crown

Second Committee Member

David A. Phillips, Jr.

Third Committee Member

Ronda Brulotte

Fourth Committee Member

Joe Watkins