Gov. Jerry Brown signs bill to facilitate repatriation of Native American remains at UC campuses

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Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Sept. 27 that requires the UC system and individual UC campuses to adopt policies that facilitate the repatriation of Native American human remains and cultural items to their respective tribes.

AB 2836 requires the UC system and its campuses to adopt policies that meet the intent of existing state and federal laws and incorporate the input of Native American tribes. The California Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, of 2001 mandates that agencies and museums receiving state funding make Native American remains and items accessible for repatriation to appropriate tribes, consistent with the 1990 federal act of the same name.

“The University of California places a primary value on the repatriation of Native American human remains and cultural objects,” said UC spokesperson Danielle Smith in an email. “UC is still assessing the bill’s provisions, and we will be reviewing and revising our relevant policies accordingly.”

The bill creates a systemwide UC oversight committee — the NAGPRA Implementation and Oversight Committee — as well as implementation committees on each campus. It also requires the UC Board of Regents to adopt and implement policies and procedures to “better implement” the federal legislation, which would be submitted for review to the Native American Heritage Commission by July 1, 2019.

All claims for repatriation will be directed to and assessed by campus committees. The bill also calls on the Board of Regents to adopt procedures supporting an appeals process.

According to the bill, current UC policy does not require the consultation of Native American tribes and fails to comply with federal law concerning the mandated identification and disposition of “culturally unidentifiable” remains and artifacts.

“It is unfortunate that Berkeley has been so slow and defensive in addressing this,” said Phenocia Bauerle, director of the Native American Student Development office, in an email. “The student community has been asking for changes for decades, as have tribes who feel that they are not being considered and Berkeley has been moving so slowly.”

The bill identifies UC Berkeley’s Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology as one of the largest holders of Native American human remains and cultural items in the country. Bauerle said UC Berkeley has repatriated only 14 percent of its collections, while UCLA has repatriated more than 90 percent.

Mark Macarro, the tribal chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians in Southern California, said at last month’s Board of Regents meeting that Congress’ intent in NAGPRA has been “stonewalled” by UC campuses, claiming they have stalled the repatriation process and denied repatriation claims using loopholes.

“It’s long, long overdue,” said campus anthropology professor Nancy Scheper-Hughes. “It is really addressing the NAGPRA act that passed a while ago, and which the University of California, Berkeley has been pretty resistant to, and it’s kind of hard to explain. There are a lot remains in warehouses that aren’t exactly being used for research.”


Contact Alex Teodorescu at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @AlexTeodorescu8.