Memorial Hall Library

Native American Repatriation & Civil Rights- NAGPRA and the Peabody Institute of Archaeology

Wednesday, March 20, 2024 - 7:00pm

Join Ryan Wheeler, director of the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology at Phillips Academy, to explore how NAGPRA changed the relationships between archaeologists, museums, and Tribal Nations.

Envisioned as Civil Rights legislation when it became law in 1990, the Native American Graves Protection & Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) required that museums work with Tribes on the repatriation of ancestral remains, funerary belongings, and other cultural items. Many institutions took their new responsibilities seriously, developing deep and lasting partnerships with Tribes, while others remained reluctant or actively worked to slow or stop repatriation. For the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology at Phillips Academy, NAGPRA has been transformative, not only in approaches to repatriation, but also in all aspects of education and collections care. Wheeler will discuss the history of NAGPRA, success stories and barriers to compliance, and how the country’s reckoning with racism, reporting by the news organization ProPublica, and revised NAGPRA rules have created another moment where the relationship between archaeologists, museums, and Tribal Nations are shifting again.

Ryan Wheeler is the eighth director of the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology, situated on the unceded lands of the Abenaki, Massachusett, Wampanoag, Wabanaki, Pokanoket, and Nipmuc Nations.  Since joining the Peabody team in 2012 he has worked to refine and advance the strategic vision of the institution with a focus on collections care, education, and repatriation. In 2018, he helped unite the diverse voices of archaeologists, alumni, faculty, and staff in telling the incredible story of the Peabody in Glory, Trouble, and Renaissance at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology (University of Nebraska Press, 2018). Prior to his move to the Boston area in 2011, Ryan worked as Florida’s State Archaeologist where he led education and preservation efforts, including the Miami Circle sacred site and the Lake Pithlachocco canoes. At the Peabody, Ryan has continued his editing and writing interests in co-founding the Journal of Archaeology & Education, the only academic journal devoted to the intersection of these two fields. Ryan lives in Medford, MA with his family.