Indian Burial Laws

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), formerly the Soil Conservation Service, is a federal agency that provides technical assistance on practices to promote sound soil and water conservation measures on private lands. Some of these practices have effects on cultural resources which are dealt with under agency policy or federal or state statutes.

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. This report originally was prepared for the Natural Resources Conservation Service under order number 40-3A75-1-638 by CEHP Incorporated, Washington, D.C. in 1993. The principle authors were Kathleen Schamel, Jill Schaefer and Loretta Neumann. Since its original printing, many states that did not have burial protection laws have enacted them. Other laws have been amended. NRCS contracted with CEHP Incorporated to review the original report and update it.

This year, 38 state laws specifically addressing reburial of human skeletal remains, repatriation of human skeletal remains and grave goods and/or unmarked grave protection statutes were examined. This includes six new laws enacted since our first report. Each law was analyzed and a detailed summary of the major provisions was prepared. The categories of information include the following:

(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.

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

In addition to the 38 states which have enacted reburial or repatriation laws, others 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. These laws were summarized for this report.

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1 Wyoming Indian Burial Laws 1851
2 Wisconsin Indian Burial Laws 1507
3 West Virginia Indian Burial Laws 1867
4 Washington Indian Burial Laws 1198
5 Virginia Indian Burial Laws 1256
6 Vermont Indian Burial Laws 996
7 Utah Indian Burial Laws 1093
8 Texas Indian Burial Laws 1591
9 Tennessee Indian Burial Laws 2221
10 South Dakota Indian Burial Laws 1133
11 South Carolina Indian Burial Laws 1869
12 Rhode Island Indian Burial Laws 1097
13 Pennsylvania Indian Burial Laws 1034
14 Oregon Indian Burial Laws 1195
15 Oklahoma Indian Burial Laws 1140
16 Ohio Indian Burial Laws 924
17 North Dakota Indian Burial Laws 1191
18 North Carolina Indian Burial Laws 2440
19 New York Indian Burial Laws 1006
20 New Mexico Indian Burial Laws 1308
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