RE: Elimination of the UC Berkeley Phoebe Hearst Museum’s NAGPRA Unit
Dear Lieutenant Governor Garamendi,
Please receive our greetings. We respectfully request that, as an Ex Officio member of the University of California Regents and one of the few rational holders of public office, you give serious consideration to this letter requesting your assistance. We also request that you have it distributed to other members of the Board of Regents.
The International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with Consultative Status before the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Formed at a gathering called by the American Indian Movement at Standing Rock, South Dakota in 1974, the IITC was the first Indigenous NGO accorded Consultative Status, in 1977. Our mission, as determined by our founders, is to work internationally for the Sovereignty and Self Determination of Indigenous Peoples and the recognition and protection of Indigenous rights, Treaties, Traditional Cultures and Sacred Lands. It is in this role that we write to you, joining many California Indian Tribes, recognized and not recognized, as well as organizations and individuals protesting the disbanding of the NAGPRA Unit of UC’s Phoebe Hearst Museum.
As you may be aware, NAGPRA, the Native American Graves Protection Act, Public Law 101-601 of November 16, 1990, establishes that federally recognized Native American tribes have the right to reclaim items known as Objects of Cultural Patrimony, Associated Funerary Objects, Unassociated Funerary Objects, Human Remains, and Sacred Objects. NAGPRA mandates that all federally recognized Native American tribes be given an inventory of items that they may be repatriated and restored.
It is important to recall that the foundation of California’s prosperity, the Gold Rush, is a history of the broken bodies of hundreds of thousands of massacred and enslaved Indians and the destruction of their traditional cultures and ways of life. Even as slavery was being repealed it was legal in California to buy and sell Indians. Historical accounts reveal that young boys sold for $60 and young women for as much as $200, that 4,000 Indian children were bought and sold. The “new” State of California paid out over one million dollars in both 1851 and 1852 to those encouraged to hunt Indians. It is not mere rhetoric to recall that in 1863 rewards were paid, – ranging from $5 for every severed head in Shasta, to 25 cents for a scalp in Honey Lake. I am enclosing a copy of “Gold Greed and Genocide (see www.1849.org),” an historical account, prepared for California’s “celebration” of the Gold Rush, of the true history of Indians in California Their only “legacy” is enslaved and massacred grandparents, the loss of land, languages song, and ancient ceremony. Poisonous mercury from that time still pollutes all major waterways of Northern California down to San Francisco Bay. For Northern California Indians whose means of subsistence continues to be fish, that legacy continues to kill and debilitate Indians.
With the relatively recent advent of a handful of Casino tribes, the now Governor of California called for Indians to “pay their fair share. Given this history, we would ask, “their fair share of what”? It is the State of California that owes a historical debt to those relatively few who survived and who only now are beginning to reclaim their languages, their spiritual and cultural traditions, their environment and their lands - with little or no help from the Great State of California. But as California casino tribes are now paying anyway what have Indians gotten in return?
The Phoebe Hearst Museum web site proudly announces that they have possession of over three million “objects of material culture.” Among those “objects” are a great many, hundreds if not thousands of human remains that are categorized as “unaffiliated” and “unidentified.” It is clear that the University is violating both the spirit and intent of NAGPRA. It is doing away with a small two person team that only recently began its work in earnest with Tribes to identify and restore these remains for a decent and humane burial in keeping with tribal spiritual ceremony and culture.
This is more than a humanitarian issue. It is an issue of freedom of religion and our internationally recognized human right to practice our traditional religions. In his 1998 visit to the United States, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance found that:
“The Native Americans are without any doubt the community facing the most problematical situation, one inherited from a past of denial of their religious identity, in particular through a policy of assimilation, which most Native Americans insist on calling genocide (physical liquidation, religious conversion, attempts to destroy their traditional way of life, laying waste of land, etc.).”1
In his report, the first United Nations examination of United States attitudes and responses to the human rights of the American Indian, the Special Rapporteur also found that NAGPRA was indeed an issue of importance to the religious human rights of Native Americans:
“As far as legislation is concerned, while noting advances in recent years in the instruments emerging from the legislature and the executive which are designed to protect Native Americans' religion in general (American Indian Religious Freedom Act) and in particular (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, Executive Order on Indian Sacred Sites, Executive Memorandum on Native American Access to Eagle Feathers), the Special Rapporteur identified weaknesses and gaps which diminish the effectiveness and hinder the application of these legal safeguards. Concerning the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the Supreme Court has declared that this law was only a policy statement. As for the Executive Order on Indian Sacred Sites, unfortunately, it does not contain an "action clause", leaving the tribes without the needed legal "teeth". Higher standards or the protection of sacred sites are needed and effective tribal consultation should be ensured. These recommendations are all the more necessary in light of the October 1997 Advisory Council on Historic Preservation regulations and the January 1997 bill (see paragraph 59 (a) and (b) above). Concerning the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, it is apparent that its coverage was too limited; it is of the utmost importance that concrete solutions be found to solve the repatriation conflict between the scientific community and tribal governments. It is also essential to secure genuine de jure and de facto protection of Native American prisoners' religious rites.”2 (Emphasis supplied)
Little has changed since the Special Rapporteur’s visit to the United States and his litany of violated spiritual and religious human rights. Given the historical record and this report on the sad state of human rights in this country particularly with regard to Native Americans and their right to practice their religion, we would hope that the Board of Regents would examine and reverse the University’s decision to terminate the NAGPRA Unit. Notwithstanding United States international human rights obligations we believe UC should at least comply with the law. And NAGPRA is the law.
We note that at a recent meeting of the Regents, much was said about enrollments of African Americans and Hispanics. Nothing was said about Native American enrollment. As far as we can tell there are no Native Americans on the Board of Regents Although Indians are invisible in California, we exist. We would ask that the Board of Regents heed our call for human rights and for the dignity and proper burial of our grandparents.
For all our relations,
Alberto Saldamando, General Counsel,
International Indian Treaty Council
cc: Andrea Carmen, IITC Executive Director
1 U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/1999/58/Add.1, Report submitted by Mr. Abdelfattah Amor, Special Rapporteur, in accordance with Commission on Human Rights resolution 1998/18, 9 December 1998 Addendum, Visit to the United States of America, paragraph 53.