Ramos holds CSU accountable after critical state auditor’s report
SACRAMENTO—A measure prohibiting California State University campuses from using Native American remains and cultural artifacts for teaching or research cleared the Senate Education Committee today on a 5-0 vote. The bill also requires the CSU system to follow recommendations from the State Auditor—and to obey state and federal laws—by repatriating remains and sacred artifacts to appropriate tribes.
AB 389, by Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-San Bernardino), was amended in the Senate following a scathing report released on June 29 by the State Auditor revealing the CSU system had almost 700,000 human remains and cultural objects in its possession despite a 1995 federal and state deadline to return the remains and artifacts to the proper tribes.
Some campuses have not completed their inventories so even more collections are expected to be found. Ramos requested the audit last year and initiated a joint oversight and informational hearing to review the findings in late August. Only about six percent of campus collections have been returned as required by the 1990 federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and its 2001 California counterpart, CalNAGPRA.
Ramos said, “AB 389 will ensure that decades after a federal and state requirement to repatriate the remains of our ancestors, CSU takes this responsibility seriously. These bones are the remains of our families and deserve respectful reburial. 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.”
San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Vice Chairman Johnny Hernández, who testified in support of the proposal stated, “The fact that little to no progress has been made in repatriating items that are of historical and cultural significance to tribes is appalling and unacceptable.” Hernández added, “It is imperative that tribes be consulted in order to provide an understanding of how items should be repatriated and to keep the CSUs accountable throughout the process.”
Chairperson Janet K. Bill of the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians commented on the process at CSU Fresno. She noted that while that campus has completed its review, “We must highlight that they did not consultwith tribes before reviewing its collection which is mandated under the 2020 Amendment to CalNAGPRA. This failure to consult denied us the opportunity to opine on the respectful treatment of our artifacts, hindered our ability to share our tribal knowledge and traditions, and undermined our tribal sovereignty.”
Key recommendations from the audit report covered in AB 389 are:
- Monitoring campus efforts to review their collections and require completion of by December 31, 2025.
- Ensuring that campuses have protocols regarding handling and identifying remains and cultural items.
- Issuing a systemwide NAGPRA policy establishing consistent repatriation processes and training requirements.
- Requiring campuses with more than 100 sets of remains or cultural items to have full time experienced repatriation coordinators.
AB 389 is sponsored by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, Redding Rancheria, Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians, and the Tachi Yokut Tribe.
Also supporting the bill are the Cahuilla Band of Indians, Enterprise Rancheria, Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Pala Band of Mission Indians, Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians, Tule River Tribe, Wilton Rancheria, the Yurok Tribe, California Indian Legal Services, California Indian Nations College, California Faculty Association, California Native Vote Project, California State University’s Office of the Chancellor, Generation Up, Indigenous Justice, and the International Indian Treaty Council.
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 Legislature. Ramos also chairs the Assembly Committees on Rules.