Bill follows highly critical state audit revealing scant progress in returning almost 700,000 remains and artifacts
SACRAMENTO—California State University campuses will be required to follow State Auditor recommendations for repatriation of Native American human remains and items wrongfully in their possession and prohibited from using Native American remains and cultural artifacts for purposes of teaching or research and to the appropriate tribes under legislation signed today by Governor Gavin Newsom.
Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-San Bernardino) authored AB 389, which was amended in the Senate following a scathing report released June 29 by the State Auditor revealing that 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 appropriate tribes. Ramos also introduced another measure, AB 226, pressing the University of California system to repatriate the human remains and items in its possession which the governor also signed today.
Governor Gavin Newsom said, “We must reckon with our past and right the wrongs of history. I am proud to work with Assemblymember Ramos to expedite the return of Native American ancestors and cultural items to their peoples. While there is still much work to be done, I am hopeful this legislation is a step in the right direction to support tribes and institutions seeking to expedite the healing process of repatriation.”
Some CSU 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 the 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 ancestors 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, “I want to thank the Governor and the Legislature for supporting this legislation. This is a critical step toward accountability and compliance with NAGPRA and CalNAGPRA by the CSU systems. The ancestral remains and cultural items held in the CSU inventories are critical to preserving Native American cultures and histories, and should be repatriated to tribal nations as existing state and federal laws require.” Hernández added, “The fact that little to no progress has been made in repatriating our ancestors, funerary objects, and cultural items over the 33 years since the federal NAGPRA was enacted in 1990 is appalling and unacceptable. It is time to get this right and bring our people home.”
Key recommendations from the audit report included 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 system wide NAGPRA policy establishing consistent repatriation processes and training requirements and
- 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, Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Redding Rancheria, Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians and the Tachi Yokut Tribe.
Also supporting the bill were the Cahuilla Band of Indians, Enterprise Rancheria, 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, 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 state’s legislature. Ramos chairs the Assembly Committees on Rules.