Governor Brown Signs Bill Supporting Repatriation of Indigenous Remains at UC Campuses

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California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill on September 27 requiring the UC system to facilitate the timely return of indigenous remains to their respective tribes.

Because repatriation of remains is slow under current UC policy, Assemblymember Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) wrote Assembly Bill (AB) 2836 to have the UC system create a system-wide committee and individual campus committees that will formulate new policy speeding up the repatriation process.

Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) requires all museums and agencies to comply with indigenous repatriation requests from federally recognized tribal organizations. California passed the California Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 2001 (Cal NAGPRA) to make NAGPRA apply to state-recognized tribal organizations.

The UC system created a repatriation policy in 2001 to facilitate compliance with NAGPRA and Cal NAGPRA. The policy allows indigenous remains to be used for research and teaching until a repatriation request is filed.

In the repatriation process, a tribal organization submits a request for their ancestors’ remains and the UC institution conducts tests to determine whether the remains belong to that specific institution. If they determine that the tribal organization does not have a claim on the requested remains, then the request is denied.

“As of June 13 of 2013, UC Berkeley in particular had repatriated only 313 of 10,000 remains,” said Mark Macarro, Tribal Chairman for the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, at the September Board of Regents meeting. “The denial of the return of our ancestors and those of other California tribes whose human bones were dug up in the name of science is a disgraceful violation of basic human dignity, decency, and a violation of federal and state laws.”

AB 2836 names the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at UC Berkeley as one of the largest collections of indigenous human remains in the United States that have not been repatriated. Article 12 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples makes the withholding of indigenous remains a human rights violation.

“Compliance and cooperation [with NAGPRA] by the UC [schools] vary widely from successful collaboration with schools like UCLA that have repatriated 90 percent of [their] human remains holding to UC Berkeley, which has consistently obstructed tribal governmental efforts to repatriate and properly respect human remains and cultural items,” Gloria said during a Senate Committee on Education meeting. “As a result, UC Berkeley houses one of the largest collections of Native American human remains outside the Smithsonian.”

The new committees are required to submit any new policy proposals to the Native American Heritage Commission to be reviewed by July 2019. Policies will then be sent to the Board of Regents for adoption. The state will audit for compliance in 2019 and 2021.

“AB 2836 is important because it dignifies indigenous ancestors that have been kept in our universities without consent for so long,” Jeike Meijer, external vice president of Local Affairs for Associated Students of UC Santa Barbara and Arawak Tribal Nation member told The Triton. “This bill will repatriate those remains to the appropriate communities. It is not only respectful, but is the right thing to do.”

Ethan Coston is an Assistant News Editor for The Triton. You can follow him @Ethan4Books


Correction: This article was updated on October 16 , 2018 at 2:35. A previous version misspelled Mark Macarro, Tribal Chairman for the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians as “Mark Makar, tribal chairman for the Pachanga band of Lucentio Indians”. We apologize for the error.