Friday, July 13, 2007

June 12th 2007 letter from Larri Fredericks

June 12, 2007

Dear Concerned Faculty, Students, Staff and Community Members:

As the Phoebe Hearst Museum’s Interim Coordinator for the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), I need to alert you to a recent decision by Vice Chancellor Beth Burnside that will have a disastrous impact on UC Berkeley’s relationships with Native Americans.

The Vice Chancellor has decided to disband the NAGPRA unit dedicated to discharging University responsibilities to tribes under federal and state NAGPRA laws. I urge you to help us reverse this decision, which was based on a report written by two archeologists who represent research interests that often conflict with tribal claims on the Museum’s collection of ancestral remains. The review was conducted with a few days notice—before the tribes could be notified and respond—and Native Americans were completely and deliberately excluded from the process, despite my vigorous insistence that they be represented. As a result, NAGPRA services after June 30 will be cut or eliminated at a critical time when good faith and justice require that the level of service be maintained or increased. Native Americans will lose the University’s only cohesive and qualified group they can count on for fair and objective consultation and document research on repatriation issues.

Vice Chancellor Burnside claims that NAGPRA services will continue at the “same level” after the NAGPRA unit is “folded into” overall Museum operations. This is cynical spin. One highly trained PhD will be laid off, and other staff members will be demoted and/or absorbed into the disparate activities of the Museum. Three of these are Native Americans, two with PhD’s and one with a Masters in Anthropology; all have specialized knowledge of NAGPRA and Native American culture. They will now be directly supervised by Museum staff members who know nothing about NAGPRA or Native Americans and whose primary responsibilities include promoting the Museum as a whole, preserving the collections, and serving the needs of research scientists. The NAGPRA unit’s former functions—NAGPRA compliance, inventories, consultation, archival review, tribal visits and claims, document research, etc—will be handled on a “case by case” basis largely by a single, yet-to-be-hired director with a background in osteology/archeology who will answer to Museum administrators and University researchers. Museum activities will take priority, and NAGPRA funds will inevitably be co-opted to “enhance” underfunded Museum programs.

The Phoebe Hearst Museum houses the nation’s largest collection of Native American ancestral remains outside of the Smithsonian. Native Americans care deeply about the treatment of this collection, and many will not rest until their tribe’s remains are returned and reburied. The NAGPRA staff has worked hard to establish good relations with Native Americans, while administering NAGPRA rules fairly and impartially, without favoring the tribes over the Museum, the University, or any other relevant constituency. Our goal is to build relationships and ensure that Native Americans have a seat at the table—that their voices be heard and that their just claims be acknowledged and satisfied. The NAGPRA unit has succeeded in establishing relations of trust and collaboration between the Museum and Native Americans, hosting over two hundred tribal visits in the past year, working with Native American Studies and the American Indian Graduate Program, facilitating the Museum’s California Indian Day and the Native American Heritage Month—and much more. The decision to disband our unit will alienate tribes, break collaborative ties and destroy our hard work.

I have sent a detailed letter to Chancellor Birgeneau asking him to reconsider the Vice Chancellor’s decision. I urge you to contact him as well. Help us convince the Chancellor that the decision is both a mistake and an injustice that will seriously damage University relations with Native American communities. Please email, fax or mail your concerns as soon as possible to

Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau
Office of the Chancellor
200 California Hall # 1500
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720-1500
Phone (510) 642-7464
Fax (510) 643-5499

Please forward this message to friends and colleagues who might be sympathetic, ask them to contact Birgeneau and then forward it on themselves. You might also want to contact the Governor and other representatives.

If you have any questions or need more information please contact me at 510-642-6096, 510-652-1567 or Thanks for your support.

Larri Fredericks, Ph.D.

Interim NAGPRA Coordinator
Chair, American Indian Graduate Program Advisory Committee

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