The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation voted unanimously to adopt an updated “Policy Statement on Burial Sites, Human Remains, and Funerary Objects” on March 1, 2023 at its winter business meeting in Washington, D.C. The policy statement establishes a set of standards and guidelines that federal and state agencies, contractors, and other relevant entities should, at a minimum, seek to implement in order to provide burial sites, human remains, and funerary objects the consideration and protection they deserve. This new policy statement replaces the ACHP’s 2007 “Policy Statement Regarding the Treatment of Burial Sites, Human Remains, and Funerary Objects.”
The new policy was adopted in response to unfortunate and traumatic incidents of disturbances of these sites, remains, and objects, some of which occurred as federal agencies conducted undertakings during Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act reviews. The policy formally recognizes that the places and people most often disturbed are those associated with racial and ethnic minorities, Indian Tribes, Native Hawaiians, Indigenous People, and low-income communities. It also acknowledges the impact of climate change on sites, cemeteries, and associated cultural practices, which might in turn threaten their identification and protection.
"Burial sites, human remains, and funerary objects are sacred to Indian Tribes and Native Hawaiian people," stated Reno Franklin, Chairman for the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians and ACHP's Tribal/Native Hawaiian member. "By adopting this policy statement, the ACHP is reorienting federal policy to help protect the important locations and associated cultural practices that are central to so many people."
The policy advances 13 principles, with the main guiding principle that burial sites, human remains, and funerary objects should be treated with dignity and respect in all circumstances regardless of National Register eligibility or the circumstances of the action (i.e., exemptions, disaster, and emergencies). This includes, but is not limited to, all times prior to and during consultation, during field surveys, when handling must occur, in documenting and/or reporting, if treatment actions occur, and in all other forms of interaction. When implemented by the ACHP through its oversight of the Section 106 process, the policy will apply to federal agencies and any applicants or developers seeking federal licenses or permits.
However, the policy’s reach is not limited to the federal government; the ACHP encourages state and local governments, nongovernmental institutions, and private developers to adhere to the principles set forth in the policy. “We have a duty to ensure the protection of burial grounds, the remains of our ancestors, and sacred objects,” ACHP Chair Sara C. Bronin said. “The ACHP will use its authority and influence to ensure that the principles enshrined in our recently adopted policy become nationally-recognized minimum standards for anyone engaged in development projects.”
The policy was adopted after extensive consultation, including government-to-government consultation with members of Tribal communities and representatives of Tribal governments. As an independent federal agency, the ACHP has trust responsibility to Indian Tribes to protect Tribal lands and cultural and natural resources. The new policy includes recognizes Indigenous Knowledge as a valid and self-supporting source of information and expertise and supports the Department of the Interior’s Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative. It also aligns with the Biden Administration’s current priorities, such as the Indigenous Sacred Sites Memorandum of Understanding and the recently released Guidance for Federal Departments and Agencies on Indigenous Knowledge.
View complete text of the policy statement
View a summary of the comments received during consultation