Sunday, January 13, 2008

LA Times feature

UC Berkeley's bones of contention

Native Americans say Hearst Museum violates a law on returning ancient remains. Officials say finding rightful recipients isn't easy.

By Richard C. Paddock, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

January 13, 2008
BERKELEY -- There is a legend at UC Berkeley that human bones are stored in the landmark Campanile tower. But university officials say that's not true.

The human bones are actually stored beneath the Hearst Gymnasium swimming pool.

The remains of about 12,000 Native Americans lie in drawers and cabinets in the gym's basement. Most of them were dug up by university archaeologists and have been stored under the pool since at least the early 1960s.

Now the bones are at the center of a dispute between Native Americans, who want to rebury their ancestors, and university officials, who have been slow to hand over the remains. Some tribal leaders contend that the university is violating a federal law that governs the repatriation of artifacts and remains.

"We don't appreciate them keeping our ancestors locked up in a drawer," said Ted Howard, cultural resources director of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes. "This is a human rights issue to the tribes. All we're asking for is to be treated fairly."

Similar disputes have played out elsewhere, but Berkeley, the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, is widely regarded as a bastion of liberalism. Since 1992, the city of Berkeley has celebrated Indigenous People's Day instead of Columbus Day. But at UC Berkeley, the debate over the bones has turned ugly.

The bones, along with 400,000 Native American artifacts, are held by UC's Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, which has a small exhibit space on campus but one of the largest collections of human remains in the U.S. outside a cemetery.

Under the 1990 federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the museum is required to identify the tribal origins of its bones and artifacts and return them to federally recognized tribes that request them. So far, the museum has repatriated the bones of about 260 individuals.

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