Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Great Basin Inter-Tribal NAGPRA Coalition resolution

July 10, 2007

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau
200 California Hall
University of California at Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720

Re: Proposed Changes in the Current NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) Consultation Staff and Process at the University of California, Berkeley

Dear Chancellor Birgeneau:

On behalf of the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe and the Great Basin Intertribal NAGPRA Coalition, we wish to protest UC-Berkeley’s dismantling of the current NAGPRA consultation process and staff at the Phoebe Hearst Museum. We formally oppose any such effort to dismantle the staff and process with whom we have previously been working toward the repatriation of our ancestral remains and burial items which are sacred to our people. This decision is based on past experiences with the University’s NAGPRA Program which until the recent past was negative and disheartening.

In 1990 NAGPRA was passed to remedy the long history of horrific treatment of Native American human remains and cultural items which unfortunately continues to this day. The Great Basin Inter-Tribal NAGPRA Coalition is a culturally based organization representing over 30 Tribes that works for the return of our ancestors that were disrespectfully and immorally removed from their eternal resting place within our aboriginal homelands.

The Great Basin Inter-Tribal NAGPRA has met and worked with several facilities throughout the United States which include not only the Pheobe Hearst but also Harvard’s Peabody Museum, the Museum of Man, the Southwest Museum, University of Nevada Las Vegas and the Nevada State Museum just to name a few. Unfortunately until recently our experience with the Phoebe Hearst has been less than favorable and in my opinion the most difficult of all of our facility relationships.

In 2004 the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe received a NAGPRA Grant on behalf of the Great Basin NAGPRA Coalition. One of the grant objectives was to review the Great Basin NAGPRA Collections of the Phoebe Hearst and work toward the repatriation of the remains of our ancestors and cultural items which unfortunately resulted in a disappointing and unsuccessful visit. The staff at that time was unaccommodating and the Tribal representatives unfortunately were unable to view the collections and were informed that the Tribe needed to do their own research of the collection which is held throughout several facilities and libraries throughout the campus. The Phoebe Hearst is the only institution that has ever denied our Tribes access to their collection and unfortunately is the only institution that would not share their site information or provide staff familiar with the
collection and/or the university research system to work in concert with the Tribal representatives to address our NAGPRA related questions, inquiries, and requests.

Based on the culturally insensitive treatment of our Tribes by the Phoebe Hearst staff during the April 2005 meeting, our Tribal representatives (including Tribal elders) were left with opinions that 1) the institution did not want to share the collection, 2) NAGPRA is not a priority 3) the institution obviously operates in a secretive manner focused only of sciences and violates the university’s mandate to fulfill the stipulations of NAGPRA.

In 2006, the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe received another NAGPRA Grant on behalf of the Great Basin Inter-Tribal NAGPRA Coalition to address a variety of repatriation issues which includes another attempt to address NAGPRA issues within Phoebe Hearst. In October 2006 we once again traveled to the Phoebe Hearst and were welcomed with a much different and accommodating staff. Three research representatives from our Coalition traveled and spent one week filtering through information in an attempt to determine the contents of the collection which included item identification, site records, and other pertinent site information. For the first time we were assisted by individuals who were not only culturally sensitive but familiar with the collections and the university system. The staff shared the process required by the UC System and for the first time wanted to hear our concerns and frustrations with our previous consultation efforts. They wanted to know how they could improve the process which would not only benefit the Tribes but also the University in their efforts to meet the mandates required under NAGPRA.

During the week of May 26, 2007 we traveled to the Phoebe Hearst and were finally able to view the collection. As the process was not perfect it was much improved and the Tribal spiritual leaders and Tribal staff were finally able to view the remains and some of the cultural items, after a two year process. Throughout this process we discovered that the vast majority of the remains taken from our homelands were determined to be “culturally unidentifiable” or “culturally unaffiliated” without any evidence or explanation to support the determination. Through our review of the documentation it is evident that Tribal Consultation had not taken place while the inventory was being established or after the inventory was completed. It is apparent that the inventory is incomplete and that due to time frames for completing the inventory many of the remains were categorized under the blanket terms of “unaffiliated” or “unidentifiable” despite site records, geographic descriptions, associated objects and other museum information which support affiliation. We discussed this issue with the NAGPRA staff and were informed that they are aware of our observations and as they continue to work thorough the collection and the University process they will work to make the necessary corrections as mandated by NAGPRA.

During this same visit we were informed that their NAGPRA program was being reviewed however we were not informed that the university intended to eliminate the program after the progress we were finally making.

I normally do not get involved with personnel issues however I have read the report by Ms. Larri Fredericks and your response which based on our past experiences is not only disheartening but it has created serious distrust in the Tribes that I represent in the University and their implementation of NAGPRA. The ethnocentric review and action taken with the program without any input from Native American staff or representatives who have worked with the program and are directly impacted demonstrates that the University is only concerned with the research and science and not the human rights of Native peoples. Based not only on this recent action but also those actions of the past, the Great Basin Tribes are seriously considering calling for an official investigation of the University’s collections and management procedures to insure that the stipulations of federal law are being complied with.

The current staff has worked hard to finally gain the respect and trust of Tribes and although the process is not perfect, they have worked hard to comply with the stipulations of NAGPRA and gain our respect and trust. We believed that the University hired scholarly Native staff to bridge the gap between the Tribes and the University because of their scholarly knowledge as well as their familiarity with Tribal traditions and beliefs. We now believe that your current dismantling and public hiring of a new director for the Museum reflects an effort by professional archaeologists at Berkeley and elsewhere to prevent the repatriation of human remains and artifacts back to the Tribes to undermine the stipulations of NAGPRA. As a matter of record, we object to our ancestral remains being classified as “unaffiliated” or “unidentifiable” since we do not believe there are any “unaffiliated” or “unidentifiable” remains in the Great Basin. We believe that the current staff that you are now dismantling is sensitive to the Tribes in these matters, because of their familiarity with American Indians and their cultural heritage.

Because of the working relationship the Tribes have established with the NAGPRA implementation staff of the Phoebe Hearst Museum, we strongly recommend that the current NAGPRA program and staff administering the Phoebe Hearst Museum collections be not only restored but strengthened and that all culturally sensitive materials and ancestral skeletal remains from the Great Basin be promptly repatriated without further bureaucratic/pseudo-scientific claims. Your actions are a definite step backward from the humanitarian success we as Tribes have been able to achieve in the passage of NAGPRA. UC Berkley prides itself on being a protector of human rights, but based on our past experiences both negative and positive, this step to eliminate culturally sensitive staff that have a working knowledge of the collection demonstrates that the University believes that the human remains are the property of the University for scientific purposes and that the human rights of our ancestors are once again put behind the interests of science.

We expect a prompt response concerning this matter as it is of the gravest concern to us, our ancestors and our future generations. If you have any questions regarding this issue please feel free to contact me at the address below or by phone at (775) 423-6075 ext. 246.

Rochanne L. Downs, Vice Chairwoman
Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe

cc: Great Basin Inter-Tribal NAGPRA Coalition
National Park Service NAGPRA Program
NAGPRA Review Committee