Sunday, January 13, 2008

Important!!!! American Indians want to rebury remains

Lyn B.
Important!!!! 4:08 PM

The original owner of this Native American Stories & Legends group Wolf L ask me to pass this on.

Hello everyone,
This is a VERY important issue! Please visit the NA NAGPRA Coalitions website, if you have not done so already. We need to get as much publicity and coverage for this issue as possible for them!

Please forward this to your contacts and lists.

For additional information on the UCB NAGPRA issue, visit and or contact them at: 

NATIVE AMERICAN NAGPRA COALITION CONTACTS: 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; Bennae Calac, 760-617-2872; Silvia Burley, California, 209-931-4567; Douglas Mullen, 530-284-7990.

Thank you!


American Indians want to rebury remains dug up by Berkeley archaeologists

By Richard Paddock
Los Angeles Times

BERKELEY, Calif. -- There is a legend at the University of California, Berkeley, that human bones are stored in the landmark Campanile tower. But university officials say that's not true -- the bones are actually stored beneath Hearst Gymnasium swimming pool.

The remains of about 12,000 American Indians rest in drawers and cabinets in the gym's basement. Many of them were dug up by university archaeologists and have been stored under the pool since the early 1960s.

The bones now are at the center of a dispute between American Indians who want to rebury their ancestors and university officials who have been slow to hand over the remains.

Some tribal leaders contend that the university is violating a federal law that governs the repatriation of artifacts and remains.

"We don't appreciate them keeping our ancestors locked up in a drawer," said Ted Howard, cultural resources director of the Shoshone-Paiute tribes. "This is a human-rights issue to the tribes. All we're asking for is to be treated fairly."

The bones, along with 400,000 American Indian artifacts, are held by the university's Phoebe A. Hearst Museum, which has a small exhibit space on campus but one of the largest collections of human remains in the U.S. outside a cemetery.

The law of return

Under the 1990 federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the museum is required to identify the tribal origins of its bones and artifacts and return them to federally recognized tribes that request them.

So far, the museum has repatriated the bones of about 260 individuals. The museum's possession of so many remains troubles American Indians who believe that the spirits of their ancestors cannot rest until their bones are properly buried.

Lalo Franco, cultural heritage director of the Tachi Yokut tribe, calls the bones' current resting place "a dungeon" and the scientists who took them "grave robbers with a license."

Controversy over the remains has been fueled by the museum's decision in June to disband the small staff that handled the job of reuniting the bones with their descendants and to incorporate that task into overall museum operations.

UC officials say the reorganization was necessary because the unit was "dysfunctional" and plagued by personnel problems. But some tribal representatives contend that the museum got rid of the unit because its interim coordinator, American Indian anthropologist Larri Fredericks, was too helpful to the tribes.

"We have followed the law and will follow the law," said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau.

Birgeneau says that Berkeley is the victim of a "campaign of vilification" by a small group of critics. He fears the uproar will damage its effort to increase American Indian enrollment and attract donations from wealthier tribes.

"It's going to take us some time to recover from this, and I really am concerned about the damage done to possible educational opportunities for Native American people," he said.

Native demonstration

Representatives of dozens of tribes demonstrated on campus in October 2007 to protest the museum reorganization and what they consider a lack of respect shown to the tribes.

"Why are the ancestors here? Why aren't they coming home?" demanded Ron Alec, a Tachi Yokut spiritual leader as he stood on the steps of Sproul Hall and addressed hundreds of supporters. "We come from many tribes to be here, but in our heart we have the same sorrow. We want to take our ancestors home."

Some archaeologists find it difficult to accept the reburial of bones from their collections, especially specimens that are thousands of years old and might provide insights into human history. But for many American Indians, no scientific knowledge is worth the price of denying them burial.

The 1990 law, known by the acronym "NAGPRA," was designed to bring the two sides together to consult on the bones case by case. But at UC, scientists have the power to decide whether items held by the university are returned.

Gold Rush slaughter

Before Europeans arrived, California had hundreds of tribes. But the 1849 Gold Rush triggered a slaughter that reduced the native population from 300,000 to 20,000 in about 50 years. Many tribes had so few survivors that they have been unable to win federal recognition.

The Hearst museum was founded in 1901 by Phoebe Hearst, UC's first female regent and mother of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst.

The museum is perhaps best known as the place where Ishi, California's last "wild" Indian lived for five years until his death in 1916. Ishi was a living exhibit at the museum, then in San Francisco. The museum sent his brain to the Smithsonian Institution, where it sat in a jar until 2000 when it was returned to California for burial.

Early Berkeley archaeologists viewed themselves as preserving the last fragments of a disappearing culture. They went out collecting, digging up villages and burial sites. Berkeley began housing the bones in the gymnasium basement in the 1940s. Rows of yellow metal cabinets and wooden drawers hold the remains, some a few bones, others complete skeletons.

Many bones are kept in plastic bags; a few are wrapped in old newspapers. Soil still clings to some, making it appear that they haven't been touched since they were brought to the basement.

Skulls stored separately

To maximize storage space, many skulls are kept in one set of drawers and their skeletons in another, a practice offensive to American Indians. Access to the basement is restricted to museum staff, a handful of researchers and tribal representatives.

Some American Indians complain that scientists view their ancestors as "research materials."

The university acknowledges that one researcher was recently allowed to take a small Ohlone bone and destroy it to analyze the deceased's diet. The Ohlone, once numerous in the Bay Area, are not eligible to receive remains because their tribe is not federally recognized.

Archaeologist Tim White uses bones from the basement in his classes. As curator of the human remains collection, he also has a major say in what items are returned to the tribes.

White is a star at Berkeley because of his discovery of fossils in Ethiopia that have helped redefine human evolution. But some American Indians view him as an obstacle in repatriating remains. Even among colleagues he is known as a "hard-liner" on returning bones.

"In many ways these collections are irreplaceable," White said. "And had they not been recovered and curated and placed in a museum, they would have been lost forever for everybody."

White said he supports the federal repatriation law and sees it as an opportunity to persuade tribes to let the museum continue housing tribal objects.

Preserving the remains

"Part of the intent of Congress," White said, "was to set up this process so that people like me could explain to people who didn't have my perspective" that preserving remains could help the tribes, for example, in proving land and water rights.

Under the law, the Hearst Museum was supposed to inventory its American Indian bones and artifacts by 1995 and determine which items were associated with certain tribes and which were "culturally unaffiliated."

The museum completed the job in 2000, but designated about 80 percent of the remains as "unaffiliated" -- despite archaeological records showing where nearly all the bones were excavated.

Even for federally recognized tribes, the process of getting bones back from Berkeley is time-consuming and rigorous. Some say the deck is stacked against them and that American Indians have little voice in the process.

At the center of the museum dispute is Fredericks, the ousted interim coordinator of the NAGPRA unit. A member of the Athabascan tribe from Alaska, she has a doctorate from Berkeley in medical anthropology and two master's degrees.

She has worked at the museum since 1999 and began heading the NAGPRA unit in March, 2006. Some tribal leaders say she was the first museum representative to deal honestly with them and willingly provide information about what items were in the collection. "I understand science and appreciate it," Fredericks says. "But even if you are a scientist, you should also have fairness, and if there is a law you should follow it."

A new review panel

Last May, UC officials created a two-member panel to review museum operations and rebuffed Fredericks' repeated calls to add an American Indian to the committee.

Robert Price, the associate vice chancellor for research, said that the tribes were excluded because they have no experience in museum operations.

"We didn't go out and seek a Native American because what we were trying to study, Native American tribes would have had no knowledge or expertise to bring to the table," he said. "They don't know how museums are organized or how our staff relates to each other or many of those questions."

The two-professor committee recommended abolishing the NAGPRA unit, which the university did a few weeks later. Since then, relations between the tribes and school have deteriorated. Fredericks and her husband, Corbin Collins, have organized a coalition of tribes opposed to the museum reorganization. Berkeley officials accuse Collins, who is not American Indian, of masterminding a smear campaign against the university, a charge he denies.

Birgeneau has refused to meet with the tribal leaders, which they regard as an insult.

Investigation sought

In November, the National Congress of American Indians, the largest national organization of American Indians, called for an investigation into whether Berkeley has violated federal law in its handling of the bones.

Recognizing in September that the controversy was damaging relations with the American Indian community, Berkeley brought in former UC provost Judson King, as museum director. King acknowledges that Berkeley has mishandled the reorganization.

"The native community with some justification is very prone to feeling itself left out and not being given participation," he said.

King hopes to make NAGPRA "user friendly" and overcome the animosity between the two sides.

"You can't have people sending such harsh things back and forth without resentment building up," he said.

In the small Central Valley town of Lemoore, the Tachi Yokut tribe has received the remains of about 1,000 individuals from various collectors, including UCLA and San Francisco State University. Franco, the tribe's cultural heritage director, said the state Department of Parks and Recreation returned one skeleton believed to be thousands of years old. The Hearst has returned about 80 individuals, but the tribe is seeking about 600 more.

At the town cemetery, the tribe has set aside a new burial ground for the recovered remains.

Franco says there is no need for science to study their ancestors' bones to prove that their people originally walked across a land bridge from Asia. The Tachi Yokut know from their tribal creation story where they come from: the San Joaquin Valley.

"They dismiss our stories and say that what we believe are myths, but for us they are the truths of how we came about," Franco said. "If they want to know who we are, they can ask us."

"Our sacred lands are all that remain keeping us connected to our place on Mother Earth, to our spirituality, our heritage and our lands; what’s left of them. If they take it all away, what will remain except a vague memory of a past so forgotten?"

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