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Frustrated lawmakers & tribes probe CSU officials over scathing audit report detailing failure to repatriate 700,000 Native American human remains after nearly 30 years

Ramos discusses pushing new bill in final weeks of session

For immediate release:

SACRAMENTO-- California State University administrators faced skeptical legislators and tribal leaders during a joint informational oversight hearing today over their decades-long failure to return 698,200 Native American human remains and artifacts to appropriate tribal descendants in violation of state and federal laws. Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-San Bernardino), the first California Native American elected to the Legislature in 173 years, discussed pushing a new bill to require compliance with the laws in the final weeks of this year’s legislative session.

Ramos, chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Native American Affairs, and Joint Committee on Legislative Audits Chair David Alvarez (D-San Diego) led the hearing and heard testimony from State Auditor Grant Parks. His report details how the CSU system has failed to comply with the 1990 federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGRPRA) and its 2001 state counterpart, CalNAGPRA.

The auditor’s report released in June cites the CSU system’s lapses and blunders in failing to ensure the timely return of Native American remains and cultural objects.

Ramos, who requested the audit, said, “After decades, CSU has failed to return the human remains of our ancestors to the appropriate tribe. These bones are not objects; they are not academic or archeological trophies to secure career gains or research grants. The remains of our ancestors deserve respectful burial. It is a fundamental human right to be buried according to the customs of one’s people. I know of no other group denied this right.”

“It is clear that California has fallen behind in recognizing the importance of safeguarding and returning Native American remains and artifacts,” Alvarez stated. “As the chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, I recognize the need for a more comprehensive examination of this subject. I express my gratitude to the California State Auditor for thoroughly investigating this matter.”

Almost thirty years since NAGPRA was enacted, only six percent of CSU’s nearly 700,000 remains and items have been repatriated, according to the audit. Key findings from the audit—which reviewed all 23 CSU campuses and conducted on-site reviews at four sites, Chico State University, Sacramento State University, San Diego State University, and San Jose State University—included:

  • Twelve of the 21 CSU campuses with collections have not finished reviews required by NAGPRA, and 16 campuses have little or no repatriation activities.
  • Two campuses returned remains to tribes without following NAGPRA’s requirements for notifying other tribes, and six campuses violated CalNAGPRA by handling collections without first consulting with tribes.
  • Campuses lack the policies, funding, and staff to support repatriation efforts.

Ramos is considering emergency legislation to codify the state auditor’s recommendations and make them law. Auditor recommendations include annual progress reports to the Legislature regarding progress toward repatriation, campus protocols, and requiring experienced repatriation coordinators at campuses of more than 100 sets of remains or cultural items.

CSU Interim President Sylvia Alva testified at the hearing along with the following CSU campus representatives:

  • Min-Tung “Mike” Lee, president of Sonoma State University, which had the largest number of collections at 185,300 during the audit period, even as the campus review of remains and items has not been completed. Only 0.2 percent of the collection has been repatriated.
  • CSU Chico President Steve Perez, whose campus has the second highest number of collections—150,200—and has returned some remains or items but has not followed the process outlined in NAGPRA.
  • Luke Wood, president of CSU Sacramento, with the third largest collection numbered at 115,900, with only five percent of the remains and artifacts repatriated. Its review has not been completed.
  • Amir Dabirian, provost at CSU Fullerton, a campus with 8,300 collections of which 0.2 percent have been repatriated.

Four CSU campuses – Monterey Bay, Stanislaus, Bakersfield, and Los Angeles – have not yet provided data needed to estimate the size of their NAGPRA collections. The state auditor reported these four campuses showed human remains in their collections and disclosed holding more than 100 boxes still requiring review.


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.