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The Law and American Indian Grave Protection

State Laws and Indian burial/sacred grounds, artifacts

Not all states have enacted reburial or repatriation laws. Those which have not enacted laws specifically addressing human remains in archaeological context may use state archaeological and historic preservation laws or a combination of public decency, cemeteries protection and abuse of corpse statutes for these purposes.

Increasingly, states will have statutes up on the web, but not all do. Below is a list of states with summaries of archaeology/burial related laws retrieved through a search of the State Historic Preservation Legislative Database at NCSL (National Conference of State Legislatures) which is updated to 1999. State Archaeologists have also been contacted for full text, and as this text is made available links are placed.

Another summary source for these laws is the "Update of Compilation of State Repatriation, Reburial and Grave Protection Laws (July 1997)". Information from that report for each state may be found on the individual state pages below.

The report was prepared for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, formerly the Soil Conservation Service, a federal agency that provides technical assistance on practices to promote sound soil and water conservation measures on private lands. The report states: "In response to increasing concerns over the looting of cultural resources, including sites containing human remains, many states have enacted legislation to protect unmarked burial sites. These state laws often require special treatment of burial sites and associated resources and may carry penalties for failure to comply. This report is a compilation and comparative analysis of all existing state cultural resource reburial/repatriation laws. It was prepared to assist NRCS technical staff who work daily under applicable state and federal laws."

The report takes note that "reburial" and "repatriation" mean different things. In this report "repatriation" concerns the legal process of turning ownership and responsibility for human remains and graves goods over to another entity; "reburial" means the legal requirement or physical act of placing or interring human remains in a designated area such as a cemetery, and "graves protection" means legal statutes established to prevent the damage, destruction or disturbance of places where dead human bodies have been placed.

The categories of information include: (1) who has jurisdiction for implementing the law; (2) statute of limitation in which a violator can be prosecuted; (3) types of geographical areas protected or exempted, such as mounds or designated cemeteries; (4) whether a consultation process was established; (5) if a review or consultation committee was appointed; (6) who has ultimate ownership for archaeological remains; (7) who may be held liable for prosecution for violations of the law; (8) what penalties are established; (9) whether there are exemptions to the law; and (10) if permits are required and who is responsible for issue them.

More on State Laws

Full text or links to full text of laws are given when available.

Alabama (summaries as provided by state archaeologist)
Arizona (links to full text)
Arkansas (links to full text)
Connecticut (links to full text)
Florida (links to full text)
Indiana (links to full text)
Iowa (links to full text)
Kansas (full text in place)
Louisiana (full text)
Massachusetts (full text)
Minnesota (full text)
Missouri (link to full text)
Montana (bill in legislature)
Nebraska (link to full text)
New Hampshire (link to full text)
New Mexico (link to full text)
New York (full text in place)
North Carolina (text)
North Dakota
Oregon (full text)
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota (full text)
Tennessee (full text)
Virgina (links to text)
Washington (links to text)
West Virginia
Wisconsin (link to full text)

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