Natives and social justice allies to rally at UC Berkeley to protect ancestral remains
By Mark LeBeau, Citizen of the Pit River Nation, MS
With input from the Native NAGPRA Coalition
October 1, 2007
Historically, Native people have endured a great deal of traumatic experiences through actions of the dominant society, including loss of land, life, and liberty. Today, many Native people contend with post-traumatic stress issues stemming from historical situations and their own traumatic experiences. Healing such wounds takes dedication on the part of the traumatized, the proper health providers, and an appropriate support system. Many Natives find traditional Indian wellness methods to be some of the most effective prevention and treatment approaches available. In spite of the advances that have been made in healing traumatized Natives, there are parts of the dominant society that continue to cause great harm to these people. A primary example is the University of California Berkeley’s (UCB) Hearst Museum which refuses to maintain an appropriate program whereby Natives can reclaim their ancestral remains from the museum and rebury these love ones.
The right to control ancestral remains is a basic human entitlement that nearly all groups in the United States are afforded except Natives. Throughout American history, scientists routinely pillaged Native burial grounds and shipped massive amounts of ancestral remains to museums for study, including the UCB Hearst Museum.
The Hearst Museum houses human remains from approximately 13,000 biological individuals. UCB spokespersons insinuate that the figure is lower because the collection only has 9,000 or so “catalog entries.” This is an attempt to mislead: “Catalog entry” does not refer to a biological individual; it designates where biological individuals are recorded in the museum archives. A single catalog entry can, and often does, designate multiple biological individuals.
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was intended by Congress to redress the injustice of Natives not being able to control their ancestral remains and require Museums, including the Heart Museum, to repatriate human remains for reburial by tribes.
In the 101st Congress, NAGPRA was actively promoted by both Republican and Democratic legislators, including then-House of Representatives Udall, Campbell, Young, Rhodes and Richardson and Senators McCain, Inouye and Domenici. Sherry Hutt, current National NAGPRA Program Manager of the National Park Service and former Arizona Superior Court Judge, in congressional testimony called NAGPRA, “one of the most significant pieces of human rights legislation since the Bill of Rights.” A purpose of NAGPRA was to reduce the looting of Native cultural sites in the U.S. and the selling of Native human remains on the local, regional, national, and international art and black markets. Reports to Congress in 1988 estimated that between 50-90% of known cultural sites on private and public lands had been looted. Over the objections of the Interior Department, the Senate and House unanimously passed NAGPRA and President Bush signed the bill into law on November 16, 1990.
Although the Hearst Museum purports to have “complied” with NAGPRA, this claim is false. NAGPRA directed museums to submit an inventory of its Native collections by 1995. UCB did not finish until 2000. Before submitting the inventory, museums were required to determine which remains and artifacts could be traced to specific tribes. When this was possible, the items would be classified as “culturally affiliated” and repatriated. Museums were allowed to keep the rest of the remains indefinitely, which were designated “culturally unidentifiable.” UCB classified less than 20 percent of its remains and artifacts as culturally affiliated and more than 80 percent as culturally unidentifiable. Although UCB has repatriated some of the culturally affiliated remains, it is out of compliance with respect to more than 80 percent of the collection. This is because NAGRPA also required that museums make a good faith effort to consult with tribes before submitting their inventories and to consider tribal evidence for cultural affiliation. Acceptable evidence could be historical, geographic, linguistic, based on oral tradition, etc., as well as archaeological. UCB did not make a genuine effort to consult with tribes. To the extent that consultation occurred at all – and often it did not – it was entirely inadequate and did not meet NAGPRA requirements. The law mandated that the standard for deciding whether remains were affiliated was the “preponderance of the evidence.” This means that all evidence must be considered before classifying remains as culturally affiliated or unidentifiable. However, since tribes were not allowed to submit evidence before the Hearst Museum submitted its inventory, the Museum did not abide by NAGPRA’s evidentiary mandate.
UC Berkeley has terminated its NAGPRA program, which resisted pressures from research scientists and provided tribes with fair, impartial and comprehensive research and consultation services. These services helped tribes defend their claims before biased repatriation committees, which are completely dominated by archaeologists. UCB completely and deliberately excluded all Natives from the secretive review process that eliminated the NAGPRA program, and did so in spite of strenuous protests by tribes and other Native Americans. The review was conducted by two non-native archaeologists hostile to NAGPRA. The Museum reorganization is designed to keep the Museum’s collection intact, frustrate legitimate tribal claims, and subordinate NAGPRA obligations to scientific research that often violates Native religious beliefs.
Given that UCB is not adhering to the NAGPRA law and is traumatizing and causing great harm to Natives working to reclaim their ancestral remains, Native people and social justice allies will rally at the University on October 5th at high noon to demand UCB immediately comply with the law. The University must: bring the Hearst Museum into compliance with NAGPRA; stop the reorganization and reopen the review process to include Native Americans; reinstate the autonomous NAGPRA unit and remove it from the administrative control of the Museum and the Vice Chancellor for research; reform the UCB repatriation committee process and work to reform the committee process at the UC system-wide level; acknowledge that when NAGPRA interests conflict with Museum interests, Natives’ standing as legal claimants must take priority; and meet with the Native American NAGPRA Coalition to discuss the future of NAGPRA at Berkeley.
Please participate in the demonstration if you are able to or send good prayers, thoughts, and songs to those standing up against forces attempting to continue to deny Natives their ancestral remains.
For more information contact:
Reno Franklin 707-591-0580 Ext 105;
Lalo Franco 559-925-2831;
Radley Davis 530-917-6064;
James Hayward 530-410-2875;
Morning Star Gali 510-827-6719;
Corbin Collins 510-652-1567;
Mark LeBeau 916-801-4422.
Here is the link to see the flyer for the event:
“There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.” (M. Scott Peck)