Monday, April 28, 2008

Testimony by Larri Fredericks

{Testimony to the California State Senate Committee on Governmetal Organization given by
Dr. Larri Fredericks on 2/26/2008. The full hearing is available from the Committee and can
be requested in writing from Suite 584, 1020 N Street, Sacramento, CA}

It is also my feeling that the “outside review” was orchestrated in secrecy, deliberately
excluded all Native Americans and tribal representatives for the sole purpose of getting rid
of the existing NAGPRA unit and reorganizing NAGPRA into the museum. The reorganization will subordinate NAGPRA services to the museum administration and further solidify the power of the Repatriation Committee’s involvement in the daily operation of NAGPRA and how it
conducts business. NAGPRA will now be caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

NAGPRA is an important issue at the Phoebe Hearst because they hold the largest collection
of Native American skeletal remains in the nation (only the Smithsonian has a larger
collection and they don’t come under the NAGPRA law). The operations of NAGPRA, in order to
serve the best interests of ALL, should be transparent, be in a neutral place and Native
American tribes should be represented. These are after all Native American remains…what
other group in America does not have a right to speak for their dead?

As tribal representatives on this panel will confirm, there has been a history of strained
relations between tribes and the museum in the past over NAGPRA. When I became Interim
NAGPRA Coordinator, I was determined to change this, and Otis Parrish and Mark Hall were
fully supportive. The way we wanted to change it was not by showing favoritism toward
tribes, but by listening to them, taking their requests seriously and treating them fairly,
and giving them the recognition that was required as the basic stakeholders in the process.

We did not want to “give away the store”; but we recognized that Native American ancestral
remains belonged to Native Americans. Our goal was to assist tribes understand the subtle
details of archival review, documentation, archaeological data, and so on, so they could
access and provide all of the legitimate evidence to present their claims to repatriation
committees that required extensive and detailed evidence based claims. We gave them the
tools: knowledge and access to the collections, the documents, and the libraries, including
the Bancroft.

We succeeded in gaining the confidence of many tribes, so much so that they rallied to our
support after the reorganization was announced. They sent countless letters of support and
protest to the Chancellor, passed tribal and National resolutions, joined coalitions, and
did a myriad of other things. How did we achieve this trust? By acknowledging the importance
of the repatriation of their ancestors, by treating them fairly and for bringing forth their
concerns and desires to the museum. Operating with at least semi-autonomy allowed us to
bring fourth their concerns and to ensure that collections in consultation were not accessed
for research, to remove exhibits from sites in consultation that were considered sacred
sites and to ensure that policy included their interests. At times this angered people in
the Museum, and, according to the Bettinger/Walker “review,” some of these people complained
that our relationships were “dysfunctional.” I should note, however, that Bettinger and
Walker did not interview most of the museum staff with whom we regularly worked and with
whom we had very positive relations. But more important, sometimes integrity requires making
people angry, sometimes we could not fairly and impartially administer NAGPRA, a federal
law, without stepping on Museum toes. I also feel that most of the staff at the museum was
supportive of the NAGPRA Unit and our actions.

On the other hand, we acted above and beyond our NAGPRA duties to help the Museum establish positive relations with tribal communities and with Native American organizations on campus. We assisted with outreach and educational programs, organized California Indian Day events, hosted the Summer Rez program for Indian undergraduates, mentored Anthropology graduate students and accepted two Native American interns, obtained funding from the City of
Berkeley for the Native California Cultural Gallery, and begged Museum administrators to
actually change the contents of that gallery (it had stayed the same for 6 years) and to
hold a major Native American exhibition (there hadn’t been one for many years, and none was
planned for many more).

No management official ever informed me or anyone on my staff that we were not performing
effectively. In fact, we were often praised by Museum Director Kent Lightfoot. No one ever
asked us how we might better integrate our activities into museum functions without
sacrificing the integrity of NAGPRA services. Hence, we were completely blindsided by the
sudden review and by the announcement of the reorganization only a few weeks later. No one
consulted us, and when we asked that the tribes be represented on the review committee, we
were answered with an “Absolute no.” I agree entirely with Otis Parrish: the review was a
set up, intended to give legitimacy to a decision that had already been made. Tribes were
excluded because they would have seen that decision for what it was: a coup by museum
scientists who wanted to keep the remains for purposes of research and by museum
administrators who wanted control of the NAGPRA budget.

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