Saturday, June 13, 2009

Prof. Carol Goldberg on the UCOP Repatriation Committee

Professor Carole Goldberg, a professor of Federal Indian Law and a UCOP Repatriation Committee member, wrote the following in 2006--

December 11, 2006

Dear Colleague:

I am writing to you in my capacity as UCLA Campus Repatriation Officer and member of the UC NAGPRA Advisory Group, seeking to enlist your support in an effort to redirect UC policy regarding repatriation to Native American tribes. I have contacted you because I believe the policy as it is currently designed and implemented fails to recognize the interests of faculty throughout the system who engage in work with contemporary tribal communities, whether those faculty are in Native American Studies or other departments. UC policy and practices, as I will explain below, tend to result in the denial of tribal repatriation claims under circumstances where tribes are likely to conclude they have rights under NAGPRA and state law, thereby promoting a negative view of the University within tribal communities.

As you may know, UC policy centralizes decisions regarding repatriation in the Office of the President, and establishes the UC NAGPRA Advisory Group to make recommendations to the President regarding campus-based inventories that find cultural affiliation or otherwise propose repatriation. Under NAGPRA, repatriation is required upon a finding of cultural affiliation of human remains and specified objects, but "culturally unidentifiable" remains and objects may also be repatriated through a process established under federal regulations. Although those regulations have yet to be promulgated, several universities and other institutions, including Cal State Fresno, have repatriated human remains through an informal process set up by the National Park Service.

Under UC policy, only campuses with collections subject to NAGPRA are eligible to send representatives to the UC NAGPRA Advisory Group. These representatives are asked to consult with campus stakeholders with respect to matters of policy and implementation. In addition, there are to be two Native American representatives on this committee, selected by the Office of the President.

In practice this system has not been functioning well. First, there are campuses without collections, whose faculty may have significant research interests and knowledge relevant to the repatriation process, especially researchers in Native American Studies. Second, it has been my experience that although UCLA maintains a broadly representative campus-based NAGPRA committee, none of the other campus representatives consults with other concerned faculty and staff regarding systemwide matters. In practice, all the other campuses, except for UCLA, have sent archaeologists with particular orientations toward repatriation, especially an exclusive emphasis on certain kinds of evidence in determinations of cultural affiliation. The result has been that these archaeologists' perspectives heavily dominate consideration of campus-based recommendations regarding cultural affiliation. Third, Native American representation on the NAGPRA Advisory Group has not been robustly pursued by UCOP. Six months ago, one of the two seats was vacated. Since that time, UCLA has nominated two individuals, and I am under the impression that other campuses have nominated individuals as well. Yet the Office of the President has not appointed a replacement.

The adverse consequences of this arrangement have manifested themselves in several different cases, especially those involving older remains. Sometimes the problem has been failure to credit oral history evidence provided by tribal communities. In another instance, group members refused to recommend repatriation of "culturally unidentifiable" remains through the available informal process on policy grounds, without ever consulting their campuses regarding the desirability of such policy. In still another situation, the Office of the President has simply failed to schedule meetings to discuss a UCLA cultural affiliation recommendation, leaving the requesting tribe in a position of considerable distress.

I am concerned that this course of action by UCOP is harming the University's reputation with tribal communities in California and across the nation, and that those of us who rely on the trust and cooperation of such communities to conduct our research will feel the consequences. I ask you to let me know whether you share this concern, and would be willing to collaborate in raising it with Lawrence Coleman, Vice Provost for Research in the Office of the President. If you prefer to speak by phone, you can reach me at (310) 825-4429.


Carole Goldberg

Professor of Law

Director, Joint Degree Program in Law and American Indian Studies

The original of this letter can be found at

(look for Repatriation letter.doc)

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