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'Behind the Blue': Celise Chilcote-Fricker discusses UK’s work with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act

By Kody Kiser and Tiana Thé 

portrait of a professor
Celise Chilcote-Fricker

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 30, 2023) — The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act ) is a pivotal federal law enacted in 1990 that addresses the repatriation and disposition of Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and cultural patrimony.

With the understanding of the pain caused by historical practices, the University of Kentucky remains dedicated to working closely with Native nations, aiming to repatriate these items ethically. The size of the NAGPRA collections requires extensive expertise, staffing and resources and is an ongoing collaborative process involving thorough consultations with tribal stakeholders.

Celise Chilcote-Fricker, Ph.D., a distinguished bioarchaeologist and assistant professor in the UK College of Arts and Sciences, is the NAGPRA coordinator at the William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology at UK. In the five years she has been at UK, she has spearheaded various initiatives, including policy implementation, research moratorium, establishing an osteoarchaeology lab and developing digital databases shared with Native nations. Chilcote-Fricker is steadfast in leading this work with transparency, respect and meaningful consultations with tribal representatives.

In early 2023, the university pledged nearly $900,000 over the next three years to accelerate the NAGPRA efforts. This substantial investment, a collaboration between the College of Arts and Sciences and the Office of the Provost and led by Dean Ana Franco-Watkins, aims to expand personnel and resources, doubling the team dedicated to NAGPRA efforts.

Under Chilcote-Fricker’s leadership, and with reinvigorated support from the university, UK has made commendable progress in ensuring that these cultural artifacts find their way back to their rightful homes.

Through their efforts, UK has culturally affiliated and repatriated 721 ancestors and 5,186 associated funerary objects from 39 different sites, which represents about 15% of the university’s NAGPRA-related archaeological holdings.

On this episode of "Behind the Blue," Chilcote-Fricker discusses this impactful work and the University of Kentucky's commitment to honoring and returning these invaluable cultural treasures that for too long have remained within our walls.

For more information about NAGPRA, visit the National Parks Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Association on American Indian Affairs websites. For more information about UK’s NAGPRA efforts, visit the UK Department of Anthropology.

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