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State auditor: CSU campuses illegally hold almost 700,000 Native American remains and objects; number expected to grow

Devastating report to lead to hearing and legislation for lack of compliance with law dating back to 1990; Lawmaker to call for greater enforcement of accountability measures and oversight

For immediate release:

SACRAMENTO—California’s independent state auditor today reported California State University (CSU) has done little to return Native American remains and cultural items in its possession to tribes after a months-long review requested by Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-San Bernardino) and the Joint Committee on Legislative Audit.

The auditor surveyed all 23 CSU campuses and conducted on-site review of Chico State, Sacramento State, San Diego State and San Jose State Universities.

Key findings revealed that only six percent of Native American remains and objects at CSU campuses had been returned since passage of the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and the CalNAGPRA 2001 enactment. The auditor found that CSU campuses have almost 700,000 collections, but the number is expected to grow. When NAGPRA was approved, institutions such as universities and museums were given until 1995 to inventory and return collections in their possession.

“This is a heartbreaking report for Indian Country. Like the University of California system (UC), our CSU system has done almost nothing to comply with federal and state law in the 33 years since passage of NAGPRA or the 22 years since CalNAGPRA became law,” Ramos said. “After decades, only a small fraction of the collections have been properly restored to the appropriate tribal descendants. As a Native American, I am angered and saddened by this ongoing display of dismissive disrespect to California’s First People and the law.”

Ramos, the first and only California Native American elected to the state legislature, stated he would request a hearing to follow up on the auditor’s findings and to determine whether existing accountability measures, such as fines, could be enforced against campuses not following the law.

“It is unfortunate that California tribes still have to deal with this issue many years later. We have been calling for repatriation since before NAGPRA’s inception. Today’s auditor report only highlighted what we already know - our ancestors’ remains and cultural items are still not returned home,” said Regina Cuellar, Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians Tribal Chairwoman.  “We hope that with the report, the legislature gets behind Assemblymember Ramos’ efforts to ensure proper repatriation.”

“I want to thank the Auditor for bringing well-researched data to lawmakers and for increasing awareness of important issues. Both the CSU and UC systems have failed miserably at returning Native American remains and artifacts to the appropriate tribes,” Ramos stated. He added that community colleges should also face similar scrutiny.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Twelve of the 21 campuses with collections have not finished the reviews required by NAGPRA, and 16 campuses have little or no repatriation activity.
  • Two campuses returned remains without following NAGPRA notification requirements which call for notifying the Federal Register and other tribes.
  • The Chancellor’s Office has not provided the necessary guidance, oversight and funding to the CSU campuses.
  • Campuses lack oversight, knowledge, funding and staff to advance repatriation.


Assemblymember James C. Ramos proudly represents the 45th Assembly district which includes the Cities of Fontana, Highland, Mentone, Redlands, Rialto and San Bernardino. He is the first and only California Native American serving in the state’s legislature. Ramos chairs the Assembly Committees on Rules.