KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture is reimagining a 22-year-old exhibit to explain the repatriation, or return, of Native American Ancestral Remains and cultural items back to their proper cultural communities.

The exhibition, which opens on August 23, was created through a collaboration with Chickasaw Nation, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, and the University of Tennessee Office of Repatriation. In the exhibition, the museum examines the legal and ethical principles of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

Congress passed this bill into federal law in 1990. The law mandates all institutions, that receive federal funding, give federally recognized tribes a list of Native American Ancestral Remains, burial, sacred, and other culturally significant items for possible repatriation.

To highlight the role of repatriation in preserving and commemorating Indigenous cultures, the exhibition reimagines the 22-year-old Native Peoples of Tennessee gallery. The updated gallery features interpretive panels and quotes from Native representatives and scholars explaining the process of NAGPRA. Many items that were previously on display were been removed as a part of the reparation process or out of respect following conversations with Native Nations partners.

“The McClung Museum sees this as a starting point to building lasting, respectful relationships with important Native Nation partners,” said Claudio Gómez, executive director of the McClung Museum. “These relationships will help open the door to more collaborative efforts with Native communities in research, programming, cultural and environmental preservation, and exhibitions.”

“This exhibition is a window into the complexities and healing that can occur when institutions work through NAGPRA and create true partnerships with Native Nations,” said Dakota Brown, Director of Education at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina. “These objects are direct connections to our ancestors who created them, held them, and buried loved ones with them; the impact of bringing them home is why so many Native activists fought and continue to advocate for NAGPRA legislation. Partnerships like those the McClung Museum is cultivating with Native Nations, including the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, have the potential to bridge the gap in understandings of our culture and community.”

The museum also plans to present a series of public programs about repatriation throughout the upcoming school year. Find more information: