Campus aims to repair relations with indigenous tribes via repatriation

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Since 2020, UC Berkeley has repatriated approximately 35 of the 1,000 native remains and 50,000 objects sacred to Native Americans and Native Hawaiians.

In accordance with state and federal laws, in 2021 the UC system passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA. This act includes the return of human remains and cultural artifacts from Native American and Hawaiian tribes, according to the UC Office of the President’s Policy website.

“The campus has several initiatives it aims to pursue to help repair and improve our relationship with Native American tribes,” campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said in an email.

As part of NAGPRA, the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum on campus no longer receives new collections of Native American artifacts, but it can still receive contemporary artistic objects, according to Lauren Kroiz, curator of the faculty of art and photography at the museum.

The museum was established in 1901, but Kroiz noted that it inherited collections of Native American ancestors and artifacts that had been collected on campus beginning in the 1870s.

“The museum no longer manages the repatriation of Native American artifacts, although we support the Office of Government and Community Relations to advance the important repatriation work,” Kroiz said in an email.

Under NAGPRA’s new restructuring, the repatriation process is still slow, according to Mogulof. He noted, however, that many of the barriers of the old policy have been removed.

Processing a claim can take a few months because the campus needs to work with the tribes to make sure they make the right decisions and give them the opportunity to examine the artifacts and human remains, Mogulof added.

“The campus respects these differences and thus supports a tribe-led NAGPRA process and defers to each tribe’s preferred timeline,” Mogulof said in the email.

Earlier this year, the US Army Corps of Engineers facilitated the repatriation of 20 of the approximately 200 remains of lives lost in the Indian Island Massacre of 1860, along with 136 Wiyot Tribe cultural artifacts from the Hearst Museum.

For students interested in repatriating native remains and artifacts, Kroiz said they can check the Hearst Museum’s website for volunteer opportunities.

“The museum is also working on repairs and restitutions of Indigenous artifacts belonging to Indigenous governments and communities outside of the United States,” Kroiz said in an email.

Besides repatriation, the campus sought to mend its relationship with native tribes by hiring several new faculty members in the Native American studies department, among other disciplines.

Additionally, the campus established an Indigenous Community Center on campus in August 2021, providing space for natives and natives to create community.

“The Chancellor has identified repatriation — that is, the return of Native American ancestors and sacred objects to tribes — as a key priority for the campus, allocating significant resources to this effort,” Mogulof said in the E-mail.

Dhoha Bareche is a race and diversity journalist. Contact her at [email protected]and follow her on Twitter at @dhohabareche.

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