Sunday, June 1, 2008

Statement by Otis Parrish

I am here to tell you what happened with the NAGPRA Unit at the Hearst Museum in May and June of 2007. It is hard for me to speak about this because what occurred was a breach of friendship and a violation of trust and honor. My tribe, the Kashia Pomo, and my relations have all given much to the Phoebe Hearst Museum and UC Berkeley. We have opened our tribe to working with Berkeley students and have hosted and been a part of the Fort Ross project. We have given freely of our knowledge, of our tribal ways, and have trusted in ties of friendship and respect. The University simply threw this away. Native Americans and a unit which fairly administered NAGPRA were lied to and treated with contempt and disrespect. This is not how you treat Native people, and it should not be how you treat any people.

The “outside review,” which was conducted on the NAGPRA unit on May 16th, 2007, was orchestrated in secrecy by the upper administration at the university and deliberately excluded Native Americans and tribal representatives. The review was a ruse, performed for these purposes alone: to rid the Museum of the autonomous NAGPRA unit, to turn control of NAGPRA over to research scientists and to take over NAGPRA funds. As a result, the Native American interests in the repatriation of their ancestors will not be fairly or adequately addressed. It is hard to stand up against the powerful when you have little power yourself. But we believe it is our duty. The Director of the Museum Kent Lightfoot, Deputy Director Sandra Harris, Vice Chancellor Beth Burnside, and Associate Vice Chancellor Robert Price all worked in secret to eliminate the NAPGRA unit, and with it, truly impartial NAGPRA services. They didn’t consult with the very people at the University who had the most knowledge and experience with both tribes and NAGPRA. And when we asked for Native American tribes to be represented on the review committee, the answer from the Vice Chancellor was an ABSOLUTE NO! Why? I can only assume that they believed tribes would reject their decision.

California Tribes…and all tribes were described by administrators such as Price as “outsiders”…with no relevant knowledge or experience in museums. Remember NAGPRA is a human rights issue – not a “museum efficiency issue” – and it was designed to give us a chance to repatriate our ancestors and rebury them as they deserve. No other Americans have had their ancestors’ graves pillaged and their bones taken away to museum shelves, to be researched on at the whim of scientists. The remains at the Museum belong to NATIVE AMERICANS, and yet the administrators say we have NO right to be included in policy decisions affecting our ancestors. This is ARROGANCE and this is RACISM…and it should not be permitted.