Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Press Release from the Tribal NAGPRA Alliance

Reno Franklin, Kashia Pomo Tribal Council Member, 707-591-0580, ext.105; James Hayward, Redding Rancheria, 530-410-2875; Radley Davis, Pit River Nation, 530-917-6064; Mark LeBeau, Pit River Nation, 916-801-4422

Tribal Reps. Call on US Senate Indian Affairs Committee to Conduct Hearings on National Park Service and UC Berkeley (UCB) Transgressions of Native American Graves Protection & Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)

Indian Country, Calif.—A recent financial review conducted by the Nat. Assoc. of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers and the Makah Nation on the National Park Service’s (NPS) use of NAGPRA funds, reveals that the agency has used more than $3 million in Tribal Government grants for purposes not covered by the law. NAGPRA authorizes the federal government to provide funds to Tribes to help them recover their ancestors and cultural property and to museums to assist them in repatriation.

The financial report, released on 8/14/08, indicates that the decision-makers of the NPS have used NAGPRA funds to support their administrative costs and other interests, including funneling money into the legal system to pay attorney fees to support scientists against Tribes in the Kennewick Man repatriation lawsuit. The report lists public data showing that from 1999 to 2007, Congress appropriated $21.9 million but the NPS only awarded $18.8 million to Tribes and museums. NPS took $221,000 from the program in 2002, $250,000 in 03, $255,000 in 04 and $342,111 in 05, $473,112 in 06 and $463,718 in 07. An additional $680,000 was taken in 05 to pay attorney's fees to the scientists who sued the federal government to study the remains of the Kennewick Man.

The number of repatriation grants awarded each year to Tribes has declined since 1999 as more funding is being inappropriately taken from the program by the NPS, while the need of Tribes to repatriate remains high.

In a related matter, Tribal reps. strongly recommend Robert Birgeneau, University of California Berkeley (UCB) Chancellor, recommit to the dispute resolution strategies entered into between Tribes and the University since their meeting in April 2008. Tribal peoples have been concerned for decades about the UCB’s lack of effort to return their ancestral remains to their families for reburial. UCB warehouses over 10,000 Native skeletal remains in boxes in its Hearst Museum basement. UCB continues to refuse to consult with Tribes on their return as required by NAGPRA, especially those the University lists as “culturally unidentifiable”. Tribal peoples know their ancestral relatives, even if UCB does not. UCB must recommit to consulting with Tribes on the repatriation of these Native human remains.

UCB decision-makers informed Tribal reps. that their recommendation to remove a highly undesirable osteologist of the college from handling Native remains and participating in decisions related to repatriation would be honored. However, Tribal advocates have recently learned that this unwanted osteologist is back conducting business as usual. In this situation, UCB is highly disrespecting and dishonoring these deceased as well their living descendents.

Tribal reps hand-delivered a letter to Chancellor Birgeneau outlining many of their concerns and asked him to respond in writing and provide appropriate remedies. The Chancellor agreed to provide the response and the remedies within a couple of months. It has been six months and the Tribal reps are still waiting for him to fulfill these commitments. Among other details, the Tribal letter sites a report written by UCB staff and other evidence indicating that UCB scientists were not conducting their work in compliance with NAGPRA. A passage from the UCB report states:

“...virtually all human remains yet to be inventoried were determined
to be culturally unidentifiable, with no evidence supplied as to why this
was the case. Even more serious, however, and contrary to statutory
language, the inventory was not associated with evidence that consultation
with Indian Tribes had taken place, nor were associated funerary
objects listed. In addition, this inventory did not accurately reflect the
museum’s documents, and the descriptions of the
geographic and cultural affiliation of the human remains
listed were insufficient.”

In light of the ongoing National Park Service and UC Berkeley transgressions of NAGPRA, the Tribal NAGPRA Alliance is calling on the US Senate Indian Affairs Committee to conduct hearings on the transgressions and work to ensure these federally-funded entities comply with the law.

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