Frustrated tribes, lawmakers call for changes in UC policies following almost 30 years in failing to meet federal and state deadline to return wrongfully held remains and cultural objects
SACRAMENTO—University of California (UC) campuses will face two additional state audits in the wake of slow progress in returning wrongly held Native American human remains and cultural artifacts to the appropriate tribes under a bill, AB 226, signed today by the governor and authored by Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-San Bernardino). Federal and state law required UC to return the human remains and items by 1995.
Ramos stated, “It is painfully disturbing that the UC campuses have failed to return the remains of our ancestors after 28 years. UC’s disrespectful and ongoing delays have prevented California’s tribes from fulfilling their sacred duty to rebury our ancestors. After almost 30 years, it is long past time for UC to meet this obligation.”
Federal law – the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 – and the state California Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 2001—are each decades old. Despite passage of these laws and two highly critical state audits released in 2020 and 2022, minimal progress has been achieved to meet NAGPRA and CalNAGPRA requirements.
In addition to the requirement of two additional audits in 2024 and 2026, AB 226 strongly urges the UC Office of the President to fund each of its campus’s efforts toward repatriation. Additional provisions include strongly urging the UC system to prohibit the use of any Native American remains and cultural remains for teaching or research.
Ramos’s measure also calls upon UC to report each of its campus’s progress toward full repatriation of its collections to the Assembly Higher Education Committee every year starting in June 2024.
Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Chairman Kenneth Kahn said, “We appreciate Governor Newsom’s signing AB 226 into law and recognizing that the University of California has a long way to go to fully implement NAGPRA and Cal NAGPRAand that it is imperative that the California State Auditor continue their compliance audits in 2024 and 2026.” Kahn’s tribe is the measure’s sponsor.
2020 and 2022 State Audit reports
The 2020 UC audit reported stated the auditor reviewed three campuses: Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Davis. At the time, Berkeley was holding an inventory of 496,500 and had repatriated 96,000 or 19 percent. Los Angeles possessed 58,200 remains and artifacts and repatriated 56,200 or 96 percent. Davis had only returned two percent of its collections which numbered 46,500.
In 2021, the state auditor reviewed four UC campuses: Berkeley, Riverside, Santa Barbara and San Diego and released its findings in 2022. The audit revealed that while some recommendations from the first audit had been adopted, the Office of the President had not prioritized returning remains and cultural items to the tribes. Riverside and San Diego reported finding they recently discovered large collections. Santa Barbara was still reviewing its repository of cultural items.
UC campuses reviewed in 2021 again demonstrated slow progress in meeting NAGPRA and CalNAGPRA requirements:
- Berkeley had repatriated 29 percent.
- Davis had repatriated 95 percent.
- Los Angeles had repatriated 99 percent.
- Riverside and San Diego had repatriated less than one percent. (San Diego repatriation progress slipped from two percent because of newly found collections.)
Ramos also introduced AB 389 which the governor also signed today to address the California State University system’s failure to return almost 700,000 Native American remains and cultural items in its possession.
AB 226 supporters include the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake, Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, California Faculty Association and Generation Up.
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.