The U.S. Department of the Interior has issued a letter stating that Alaska Native items in the possession of Andover Newton Theological School of Massachusetts are subject to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
The Sealaska Heritage Institute of Juneau alleged in June that a halibut hook in the school's collection on loan to the Peabody Essex Museum of Massachusetts was a sacred object used in fishing rituals.
In the letter, Michael Bean, an assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, said that insofar as Andover Newton participated in federal student aid programs, it was governed by the law. He said the school hadn't completed a summary of Native American objects in its collection by April 2010, which "constitutes a failure to comply with the requirements" of the act.
Bean gave the school 45 days to respond to the notice.
The letter is dated Sept. 28, 2015. In a press release sent out Tuesday, Sealaska said it had only recently obtained a copy. Two weeks ago, officials with the NAGPRA office told Alaska Dispatch News that an investigation was underway but did not give a timeframe for when it might be completed.
At the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage last week, a resolution was passed to form a group to study the issue of repatriation of items considered to be objects of "cultural patrimony" under the law. The group is to propose changes in how the law is implemented and enforced.