Wednesday, February 27, 2008

California Senate hears testimony on University violating Native rights

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

California Senate hears testimony on University violating Native rights

California Senate Hears Testimony on University's Violations of Federal Law & Native American Rights

Tribes Demand 12,000 Ancestral Remains and 200,000 Sacred Objects Returned from University of California Berkeley

By Morning Star Gali

SACRAMENTO, CA. -- On February 26, 2008, Native American Tribal Leaders, Cultural Heritage Directors, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) experts, and UC Berkeley administrators testified at a Senate hearing held at the State Capitol. The hearing was held following Tribal protests of UC Berkeley's violations of federal law, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Tribal leaders and representatives have voiced concern that UC Berkeley has denied the Tribes' right to bring to rest hundreds of thousands of sacred objects and ancestral remains. UC Berkeley also eliminated their special NAGPRA unit that was created for the purposes of ensuring compliance with the laws.The hearing room was full with 60 Tribal Officials, Native American supporters, and less than a handful of UC Berkeley Administrators and Officials. Senator Dean Florez, Chairman of the Committee on Government Organization facilitated the informational hearing as an intervention to the ongoing eight-month battle between Native American Tribal Representatives and UC Berkeley officials and administrators, including Chancellor Birgeneau. "University of California Berkeley completely and deliberately excluded all Natives from the secretive review process that eliminated the NAGPRA program, and did so in spite of strenuous protests by tribes and other Native Americans," Stated Mark LeBeau of the Pit River Nation and Native American NAGPRA Coalition member. Given that the UC System receives state funding and is therefore accountable to the state, establishing a policy of interaction with tribes is in the best interest of all parties involved, " testified LeBeau during the hearing.Mark Hall, a former Archeologist with the autonomous NAGPRA unit, before it was administratively eliminated, testified, "I am here today not as a disgruntled former employee, but as an Archaeologist and museum professional who is outraged and disgusted with what has transpired with UC Berkley and its NAGPRA obligations."Larri Fredricks, former Interim NAGPRA Coordinator Chair at UC Berkeley testified that the reorganization of the NAGPRA unit into the Phoebe Hearst museum, "was orchestrated in secrecy, deliberately excluded all Native Americans and tribal representatives for the sole purpose of getting rid of the existing NAGPRA unit and reorganizing NAGPRA into the museum. The operations of NAGPRA, in order to serve the best interests of all, should be transparent, be in a neutral place and Native American tribes should be represented. These are after all Native American remains…what other group in America does not have a right to speak for their dead?"The federal NAGPRA policy was established in 1990 to assist tribes in bringing their ancestors and sacred objects home. In California, AB978, or Cal-NAGPRA, was created in 2001 to extend the law to non-federally recognized tribes within California. UC Berkeley is known to hold the second largest Native American collection in the Nation which includes human remains and sacred objects."Despite federal and state law, the University continues to possess the remains of more than 12,000 Native ancestors and more than 200,000 ancestral items and sacred objects," stated Morning Star Gali, Ajumawi Band of Pit River and Native American NAGPRA Coalition member. "The right to control our ancestral remains is a basic human entitlement that nearly all groups in the United States are afforded except Native Americans."Lalo Franco of the Yokut/Wukchumni Nations and Cultural Heritage Director of the Santa Rosa Rancheria Tachi Yokut Tribe testified, "Indian people see the return of their ancestors and sacred objects as a return of their cultural and spiritual foundations, which is the very heart of Indian nations. In order to bring their people home to their rightful resting places, to protect those at rest, and to fulfill the mandates of NAGPRA, Native people have over the years begun to understand the limitations of the law's process and regulations." In addressing the University's claims to be in compliance with NAGPRA regulations, Franco stated, "The University scientists hold a professional stake in keeping these ancestors at the University for their own research purposes. However, such activity violates Native American spiritual and cultural practice and likely puts UCB into non-compliance with federal NAGPRA policy."Otis Parrish, Kashia Pomo Elder and NAGPRA Cultural Attaché at UC Berkeley for 9 years before the unit was eliminated stated, "What occurred was a breach of friendship and a violation of trust and honor. My tribe and my relations have all given much to the Phoebe Hearst Museum and UC Berkeley. We have given freely of our knowledge, of our tribal ways, and have trusted in ties of friendship and respect. The University simply threw this away. Native Americans, and a unit which fairly administered NAGPRA were lied to and treated with contempt and disrespect. They didn't consult with the very people at the University who had the most knowledge and experience with both tribes and NAGPRA. And when we asked for Native American tribes to be represented on the review committee, the answer from the Vice Chancellor was an absolute no! Why? I can only assume that they believed tribes would reject their decision." Parrish also testified, "California Tribes…and all tribes were described by administrators as having no relevant knowledge or experience in museums. Remember NAGPRA is a human rights issue – not a 'museum efficiency issue' – and it was designed to give us a chance to repatriate our ancestors and rebury them as they deserve. No other Americans have had their ancestors' graves pillaged and their bones taken away to museum shelves, to be researched on at the whim of scientists."Larri Fredricks stated, "The review was a set up, intended to give legitimacy to a decision that had already been made. Tribes were excluded because they would have seen that decision for what it was: a coup by museum scientists who wanted to keep the remains for purposes of research and by museum administrators who wanted control of the NAGPRA budget."During the hearing, Senator Darrell Steinberg pointed out that he had visited UC Berkeley in the past and saw the remains himself. He insisted that this was a civil rights issue and that the remains should not be held in storage areas. "If there were remains of my ancestors, European Americans, in the Hearst museum at one of the most respected universities in the country, there would be an absolute outcry from people, and I guarantee you something would be done about it quickly but because they're Native American remains, somehow it is different."Jessica LePak, UC Berkeley Graduate student and member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and Native American NAGPRA Coalition attended the day's hearing stated, "The University clearly puts more value on their research interests and has yet to show respect for the rights of Indigenous people and for the spirit of NAGPRA policies".Senator Florez, Senator Jim Battin, and Senator Darrell Steinberg agreed that UC Berkeley has not appropriately collaborated with tribes or acted in a transparent manner as required by the federal NAGPRA mandate. The Senate committee advised Chancellor Birgeneau to meet with tribal officials and Native American NAGPRA Coalition members within a "reasonable time period". As the meeting closed, Senator Florez asked University officials to relay to the Chancellor to meet with proper tribal consultants and Native American NAGPRA Coalition members. He reminded them that he would call the Chancellor to testify before legislature if he continued to refuse to comply with this request.###-- Morning Star Gali
EDITORIAL CONTACTS: Reno Franklin, Tribal Council Member, Kashia PomoTribe, 707-591-0580, ext. 105,;Jessica LePak, Oneida Nation, 415-823-9920,
NATIVE AMERICAN NAGPRA COALITION CONTACTS: Lalo Franco, 559-925-2831; Radley Davis 530-917-6064; James Hayward, 530-410-2875; Morning Star Gali 510-827-6719; Bennae Calac, 760-617-2872; Douglas Mullen, 530-284-6135; Michael DeSpain, 530-284-7990
Photo: Longest Walkers protest abuse of ancestors' remains at UC Berkeley on Feb. 11, 2008/Photo Brenda Norrell (Double click to enlarge)

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Censored News is published by censored journalist Brenda Norrell. A journalist for 27 years, Brenda lived on the Navajo Nation for 18 years, writing for Navajo Times, AP, USA Today, Lakota Times and other American Indian publications. After being censored and then terminated by Indian Country Today in 2006, she began the Censored Blog to document the most censored issues. She currently serves as human rights editor for the U.N. OBSERVER & International Report at the Hague and contributor to Sri Lanka Guardian, Narco News and CounterPunch. She was cohost of the 5-month Longest Walk Talk Radio across America, with Earthcycles Producer Govinda Dalton in 2008:
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