Thursday, February 28, 2008

Coverage of the hearing

Berkeley accused of racism over failure to return tribal bones
By Richard C. Paddock, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

February 27, 2008

SACRAMENTO -- -- State Senate leaders chastised UC Berkeley
administrators Tuesday for trampling on the civil rights of Native
Americans by not returning the remains of thousands of their
ancestors held in storage at a campus museum.

Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), the incoming Senate leader,
accused the university of discriminating against Native Americans by
keeping the bones and artifacts at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of
Anthropology despite federal and state laws that established
procedures for returning them years ago.

"If there were remains of my ancestors, European Americans, in the
Hearst museum at one of the most respected universities in the
country, there would be an absolute outcry from people, and I
guarantee you something would be done about it quickly," Steinberg
told university officials at a hearing of the Senate Governmental
Organization Committee. "But because they're Native American remains,
somehow it is different."

For more than 40 years, the bones of about 12,000 Native Americans
have been kept in drawers and cabinets under the swimming pool of the
Hearst Gymnasium, next door to the museum. Most of the bones were dug
up by university archaeologists in the first half of the 20th

Under the 1990 federal Native American Graves Protection and
Repatriation Act and a similar 2001 state law written by Steinberg,
the museum is required to identify the origins of bones and artifacts
in its collection and return them to the tribes they came from. So
far the museum has repatriated the bones of about 260 individuals.

UC Berkeley triggered new controversy over the bones in June when it
eliminated the staff unit within the museum that was responsible for
working with tribes and facilitating the return of the remains.

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Senators accuse UC - Berkeley of discrimination, secrecy over ancestral remains Email this page Print this page
Posted: February 28, 2008
by: Shadi Rahimi

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - In a powerful show of support, state senators are rebuking the University of California - Berkeley for refusing to return thousands of Native human remains held in storage, calling the actions of university officials discriminatory.

Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, chairman of the Senate Committee on Governmental Organization, said in a Feb. 27 letter addressed to UC - Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau that he had been inclined to give university officials ''the benefit of the doubt,'' but he was ''appalled'' after testimonies at a hearing at the state Capitol Feb. 26.

University officials ''systematically'' excluded Natives from ''having any involvement'' in a decision to eliminate a unit at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology - which houses the second-largest Native collection in the nation - that had helped tribes reclaim ancestral items under the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act.

''UC - Berkeley officials have acted secretly and without transparency to circumvent the mandates and the spirit of federal and state NAGPRA laws,'' Florez wrote in the letter, provided to Indian Country Today by a protest coalition representing 400,000 tribal members.

Florez is urging Birgeneau to meet with tribal leaders within 30 days. During the hearing, he had questioned why university officials have repeatedly refused to work directly with tribes and to meet with tribal leaders (even after they marched to his office this past fall).

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