Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights 2020

Monday, October 8, 2007

Berkeley: Failed respect over ancestors' remains

The Daily Californian reports on the protest over remains of ancestors at a Berkeley museum. While the writer states these are "remains," either the writer or editor has chosen to call these "relics" in the headline. Would their great-grandparents' bodies be referred to as "relics" or "remains?" We're waiting for a response from the newspaper. Censored Blog

Protesters Call for Return of Relics
BY Lilya Mitelman
Contributing Writer
Monday, October 8, 2007
American Indian groups gathered Friday to protest Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s refusal to meet with them to discuss the return of thousands of American Indian remains housed in a campus museum.
The Native American NAGPRA Coalition began the protest on the Mario Savio steps on Sproul Plaza and marched to California Hall demanding to meet with Birgeneau.
The Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at UC Berkeley houses the second-largest collection of American Indian remains in the nation, said campus spokesperson Marie Felde.
The coalition is asking that the remains be returned to their respective tribes to be reburied.
“UC Berkeley has 13,000 native remains in a drawer in the bottom of a museum,” said Mark LeBeau, a member of the Pit River tribe.
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, a federal law passed in 1990, mandates the return of certain American Indian items, including human remains and funerary objects, to lineal descendants.
Associate Chancellor John Cummins and Associate Vice Chancellor for Research Robert Price have been made available to the group, Felde said.
However, Birgeneau decided not to meet with the group personally after a number of e-mail exchanges between group members and administrators included “rather accusatory language,” Felde said.
Speakers during the protest said that as an American Indian descendant himself, Birgeneau should show them respect and meet with them. Birgeneau is a descendant of the Metis Nation, a Canadian tribe, Felde said.
“Wake up and be an Indian again because that’s what he’s supposed to be,” said Reno Franklin, a member of the Kashia Pomo tribe.
Assistant Vice Chancellor Charles Upshaw and Assistant Chancellor Beata Fitzpatrick addressed the crowd outside California Hall and said the campus is in compliance with the act and is committed to working with tribes. She added that they will relay the protesters’ concerns to Birgeneau.
The protest follows a move in July to disband a unit at the anthropology museum that handled American Indian repatriation claims in order to integrate its work with the museum’s main operations.
Campus officials said the reorganization was intended to improve relations with tribes and is more in line with the structure of other museums with similar collections.
However, coalition members say the changes may worsen relations with tribes and are concerned over the lack of consultation with American Indian tribes over the change.
Felde said tribal groups were not consulted because the change was a managerial decision regarding administrative changes.
“This was just literally reorganizing the organizational character,” she said.
Contact Lilya Mitelman at

Berkeley: Fox guarding the henhouse

Corbin Collins

Mark LeBeau

Tribes from Across the State Rally Against UC Berkeley’s Attack on Native American Human Rights

Anger Sparked by UCB’s Assault on Unit Dedicated to the Repatriation of Ancestral Remains and Sacred Objects

From: The Native American NAGPRA Coalition

The University of California at Berkeley (UCB) has disbanded the critical unit that discharged UCB’s obligations under Federal law to repatriate the Hearst Museum’s collection of Native American ancestral remains and sacred objects to tribes for reburial. The Hearst holds the second largest such collection in the Nation, with remains from approximately 13,000 biological individuals. Administrators made the decision to eliminate the unit in a secretive process that completely and deliberately excluded tribal representatives, in spite of strenuous protests by tribes and the Native Americans on the unit’s staff. As a result, services mandated by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) will be drastically cut, and the services that remain will be controlled by scientists with professional interests in keeping the collection intact.

The University action prompted the formation of the Native American NAGPRA Coalition, which consists of eight tribes representing coalitions of almost 40 more. On August 6, the Coalition wrote to Chancellor Robert Birgeneau requesting that he stop the reorganization, reopen the review process to include Native Americans and meet with the Coalition to discuss the future of NAGPRA at Berkeley. The Chancellor ignored the letter, just as all UC administrators have ignored all Native Americans throughout the entire decision process.

Throughout American history the U.S. Government has extended the right to control ancestral remains to almost every group except Native Americans. For hundreds of years, scientists and collectors have pillaged Native American graveyards and shipped their human remains to Museums for study. NAGPRA was intended to redress this injustice, but tribes often complain that it is difficult to enforce and allocates too much power to the Museums and scientists who control the collections. Tribal leaders maintain that UC Berkeley has abused the law by classifying over 80 percent of the collection as “culturally unidentifiable,” and therefore, unavailable for repatriation. The NAGPRA unit was a cohesive group of professionals who helped tribes challenge this classification. Without the unit, tribes will have a far harder time making successful repatriation claims.

“It’s really a case of the fox guarding the henhouse,” said Corbin Collins, a NANC representative. “The Museum decides which remains are culturally identifiable and routinely rejects tribal evidence to the contrary. Now, by disbanding the autonomous unit and eliminating its fair and impartial consultation and research services, the University has decimated tribes’ ability to marshal any sort of evidence at all.”

No comments:

About Censored News

Censored News is published by Brenda Norrell. Since 2006, Censored News has received more than 20 million pageviews. As a collective of writers, photographers and broadcasters, we publish news of Indigenous Peoples and human rights. Contact publisher Brenda Norrell:

Donate to Censored News

Please donate to Censored News for travel and equipment for our live coverage. Thank you, Brenda.