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NAGPRA Community of Practice Project Update

Participants at a NAGPRA Community of Practice public discussion in Fairbanks, Alaska, August 2019.

Last month marked the half-way point for the 3-year, IMLS funded project to create a NAGPRA Community of Practice.* It seemed like a good time to take a moment and reflect on the work already completed and the work still left to be done.

The project scope of work has four objectives:

  1. host a summit of museum NAGPRA practitioners;

  2. develop and disseminate a platform for a virtual community of practice (VCoP);

  3. reach small to mid-size institutions with limited NAGPRA experience through NAGPRA sessions and workshops at national, regional, and local museum conferences as well as distributing quick reference NAGPRA fact sheets; and

  4. host a conference to recognize the 30th anniversary of NAGPRA, share project results with the wider NAGPRA community, expand the network, and look toward the future of NAGPRA implementation.

While one of these objectives, the summit, has been completed, we continue to work on the other three.


The museum NAGPRA practitioners’ summit took place March 25-26, 2019. You can read a full account of the proceedings in the summit report. One of the most important outcomes of the summit was the shared understanding that the NAGPRA Community of Practice should be for all practitioners, not just those implementing NAGPRA for museums.

Conference Outreach

The first initiative to reach small to mid-size institutions with limited NAGPRA experience focused on expanding already established professional networks for museum professionals through conference outreach. A 2015/2016 survey conducted by the University of Denver Museum of Anthropology (DUMA) of NAGPRA practitioners revealed that the largest obstacle for training was travel and training expenses. Respondents also indicated that they preferred in-person training and live webinars over pre-recorded video. Therefore, we wanted to support the presentation of NAGPRA related sessions at fifteen local, regional, and national conferences.

So far, we were able to support presentations at 3 national (American Alliance of Museums, Council for Museum Anthropology, Association of Academic Museums and Galleries), 2 regional (Western Museums Association, New England Museum Association), and 1 local (Museums Alaska) museum conferences. Presentations were also made at 6 non-museum conferences (Association on American Indian Affairs’ Repatriation Conference, Society for American Archaeology, Southeastern Archaeological Conference, Midwestern Archaeological Conference, Florida Anthropological Society, and Plains Anthropological Society).During this Covid19 era, the effort to present additional NAGPRA related sessions at museum conferences is currently on hold.

To further encourage engagement with the museum NAGPRA community of practice and provide real information for increasing capacity, we plan to design and produce fact sheets for distribution. Reminiscent of the ubiquitous disaster wheel found in almost every collections storage space or museum office, this fact sheet will be a quick reference for museum staff to increase understanding of NAGPRA implementation by identifying primary terms and basic steps. The goal of the fact sheet is to increase the confidence of museum professionals to engage with NAGPRA implementation, decreasing misunderstanding and confusion.

Virtual Community of Practice (VCoP)

By building on already existing web tools for network development and knowledge sharing, the second initiative gives museum professionals remote access to colleagues and NAGPRA resources through a Virtual Community of Practice (VCoP). To accomplish this, we created a public shared Google Drive folder to share templates and other documents. We started a NAGPRA practitioner listserv where members can ask questions of colleagues and connect. We took advantage of existing social media platforms where practitioners already spend time and created a Facebook group and took over an already existing LinkedIn group.

Another project to come out of the VCoP is creating a directory of NAGPRA practitioners. You can contribute your own contact information using this form.

By far, the most successful effort is the monthly call that began in January of this year. Starting with one hour calls on the fourth Friday of the month, after only three months participants suggested expanding to bi-monthly. The calls are a mix of planned programming and open discussion. From the beginning I was impressed with the turnout of approximately 30 participants. Since then we have grown to approximately 60.

Repatriation Conference (30th Anniversary)

To recognize the 30th anniversary of NAGPRA, share project results with the wider NAGPRA community, expand the network, and look toward the future of NAGPRA implementation, the University of Denver Museum of Anthropology is partnering with the Association on American Indian Affairs for the 6th Annual Repatriation Conference. The conference is scheduled to be held in Denver, Colorado, October 27-28, 2020, with pre-Conference workshops on October 26. We are currently investigating options for increasing capacity for virtual participation. For more information visit the Repatriation Conference website. As we move into the second half of this project I continue to be amazed at all the support and positive encouragement from NAGPRA practitioners. I am confident that the NAGPRA Community of Practice will live beyond the life of the grant.

* This project is made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (MG-70-18-0050-18). Please contact Principal Investigator Anne Amati, MA, if you have any questions or would like additional information at

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