Melanie O’Brien Selected as New National Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Program Manager

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WASHINGTON – The National Park Service this week selected Melanie O’Brien to manage the National Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) Program; a program that assists with the return of ancestral remains and cultural objects to Native American tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations. 

In the 25 years since the NAGPRA was enacted, great strides have been made to return sacred objects and ancestral remains to native peoples,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.  “Melanie’s extensive experience in Native American policy issues and NAGPRA implementation will help move the program forward.”

Enacted in 1990, NAGPRA requires federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funding to inventory and identify Native American human remains and cultural items in their collections, and to consult with culturally affiliated Indian tribes, Alaska Native villages, and Native Hawaiian organizations regarding repatriation.  The National NAGRPA Program is administered by the National Park Service, a bureau of the Department of the Interior.

As the manager of the National NAGPRA Program, O’Brien will serve as the Designated Federal Officer to the NAGPRA Review Committee, provide technical assistance to museums and Federal agencies, and award grants to assist in NAGPRA implementation.

“I’m excited to lead the National NAGPRA Program and hope to raise the level of productive discourse about NAGPRA and to support the many people who are working so diligently to implement the letter and the spirit of the law,” said O’Brien.   “I look forward to continuing to build productive and supportive relationships with all NAGPRA constituents.”   

In 2012, O’Brien joined the National NAGPRA Program as the notice coordinator responsible for publishing the program’s notices on the Federal Register.  She also represented the NAGPRA program at national conferences and conducted extensive training sessions on the NAGPRA process to a variety of audiences.  In October 2014, O’Brien assumed acting responsibilities for managing the program and led three meetings of the NAGPRA Review Committee. 

O’Brien gained significant experience in Native American public policy during nine years conducting thorough and complex legal and policy research for the Department of the Interior and the Department of Justice.  She holds a master’s degree from Loyola University Chicago and a bachelor’s degree from Carleton College (Minnesota).


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