More than $3 million in NAGPRA grants diverted
The National Park Service has used more than $3 million in tribal grants for purposes not covered by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, according to a report released on Thursday.

The 1990 law authorizes the Interior Department to award grants to tribes, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians to help them recover their ancestors and cultural property. Museums can also obtain money to assist them in repatriating tribal items.

But researchers for the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers discovered that the money has been used for administrative oversight at the NPS and even for legal fees in the controversial Kennewick Man repatriation lawsuit. In just two recent years, over $900,000 was diverted from tribes and museums, according to the report.

"One researcher examined the funding history of the NAGPRA grant program and compared the amount of federal funds that have been allocated to the grant program to the total amount of funds that are used to support Native American repatriation and museum repatriation efforts," the report said. "A substantial amount of funds are not being used at the local level."

The report listed publicly available information that shows a $3.1 million discrepancy in the NAGPRA grant program. From 1999 to 2007, Congress appropriated $21.9 million but the NPS only awarded $18.8 million to tribes and museums, according to the data.

Over the seven-year period, a total of 355 grants were awarded. But the number of grants awarded per year has steadily declined since 1999 as more and more money is being taken away from the program by the NPS.

According to the data, NPS took $221,000 from the program in fiscal year 2002, $250,000 in 2003, $255,000 in 2004 and $342,111 in 2005, $473,112 in 2006 and $463,718 in 2007. The number of grants has gone down in each of those years, the report showed.

Another $680,000 was taken in 2005 to pay attorney's fees to the scientists who sued the federal government to study the remains of the Kennewick Man. So in that year, only 27 grants were awarded, down from 40 the year prior.

It's possible more money has been diverted but NATHPO wasn't able to document the full extent of the problem because data is missing for the years 1994 through 1998.

"NAGPRA grants to tribes and museums has decreased in the past five years, and an assessment of grants made between 1994 and 2007 indicates that proportionately fewer of the funds appropriated for this purpose are actually being allocated for grants," the report said. "Clearly, federally-appropriated resources have been insufficient to address the needs of the repatriation process."

A grant from the NPS funded the study, a joint effort of NATHPO and the Makah Nation of Washington. "NAGPRA gave hope to all Indian people that we could legally seek return of our cultural objects and for many, this promise has been realized," said Janine Bowechop, executive director of the Makah Cultural and Research Center.

"If we had the resources, we would make a bigger push to bring our objects home, where they belong," she said.

Get the Report:
Federal Agency Implementation Of NAGPRA (June 2008)