The following is a press release issued by the Office of California State Senator Bill Dodd:
Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, introduced legislation today to help expedite the return of Native American remains and cultural items held in University of California collections by requiring campuses to allocate sufficient resources for repatriation efforts and by mandating reporting to ensure progress.
“Although the university system is required to return these items to tribes, it has not always done so in a consistent and timely manner,” Sen. Dodd said. “My bill would help restore dignity to generations of indigenous Californians by ensuring campuses allocate the necessary funding to complete the repatriation process and by holding them accountable to get it done.”
Historically, University of California campuses have possessed hundreds of thousands of Native American artifacts unearthed across the state. Many Native Americans believe the spiritual journeys of their ancestors have been disrupted by the exhumation of their remains and hope to rebury them once they are returned. Government agencies and museums – including universities – are required to return the items under both the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and state’s version of the law, CalNAGPRA.
However, an audit released in November showed compliance with repatriation laws by the University of California has been inconsistent. Campuses at Berkeley, Riverside, San Diego and Santa Barbara have not reviewed all Native American remains and cultural items in their possession, the audit said. Also, the Office of the President has provided neither the necessary guidance nor the funding for repatriation activities, the audit showed. Only UC Davis and UCLA have repatriated the majority of their Native American collections, the audit found.
Sen. Dodd’s new legislation, Senate Bill 61, would implement the auditor’s recommendations to address university shortcomings, ensuring campuses have the resources to return remains and other items in a consistent and timely manner, and report on their progress.
“Tribes are committed to do right by our people, past present and future,” said Robert Smith, chairman of the Pala Band of Mission Indians since 1990. “We appreciate Sen. Dodd and the state Legislature pressing the University of California to do what’s right. It’s confounding it requires as state law to do that.”
“We have met our obligations to honorably lay our people to rest,” said Jesus Tarango, chairman of the Wilton Rancheria. “The UC campuses need to meet their obligation to return our ancestors and cultural items to their rightful resting places.”