The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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CSU campuses fail to return cultural artifacts and remains to native tribes

A student walks past Sierra Hall where the cultural artifacts and ancestors’ human remains are located on Tuesday, April 23, 2024.

California State University campuses across the state failed to return human remains and cultural artifacts to Native tribes, disregarding an existing law called Assembly Bill 389, the California Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 2001.

The act, known as NAGPRA, and its 2001 California counterpart, established requirements for the repatriation of Native American artifacts to Native tribes by government agencies.

Sonoma, Sacramento and San Francisco are a few of the twelve CSU campuses that failed to repatriate any artifacts or remains to the tribes, according to a report released by California state auditor Grant Parks.

Overall, only 6% of the collections have been repatriated to tribes, the report stated.

Among the CSU campuses that failed to return artifacts, only CSU Long Beach has repatriated a majority of its artifacts back to its local Native tribes: Gabrielino/Tongva, Kizh and Acjachemen/Juaneño.

According to the CSU NAGPRA state audit, CSUN, which has a collection of approximately 30,000 artifacts on hand, has failed to repatriate its artifacts back to Native tribes.

Jeffrey Tadór Reeder, Dean of Humanities and Senior Tribal Liaison Officer at CSUN, discussed why human remains and artifacts have not been repatriated at CSUN.

“There is a fairly new law in California that is inspired by Assembly Bill 389, written by James Ramos, who is the only Native American in the State Legislature. It sets a policy where Cal States may not use artifacts for any educational purposes,” Reeder said.

Reeder said that bill 389 encourages CSUs to comply with this law, and CSUN has also reached out to local and regional tribes whose ancestors and cultural heritage may be on campus. CSUN is in communication with several tribes and is continuing to work with them, including the hiring of a repatriation coordinator to coordinate efforts.

California lieutenant governor Eleni Kounalakis called on the CSU Board of Trustees to discuss audit findings on the repatriation of Native American cultural artifacts.

“Undoubtedly, the CSU has fallen short, not only in its failure to comply with NAGPRA and CalNAGPRA but also in its system-level oversight of this process,” Kounalakis said.

Public affairs manager Hazel Kelly, from the CSU chancellor’s office, commented on behalf of CSU Chancellor Mildred García.

“CSU acknowledges that it has fallen short on its responsibilities to repatriate Native American cultural objects and ancestral remains held in university collections through the state and federal mandates,” Kelly said.

The 2023 state audit identified a lack of funding and staffing resources and the absence of a systemwide policy and guidance as the underlying causes of CSU’s lack of NAGPRA compliance. The CSU agreed with the audit and is actively working to fulfill those recommendations.

The chancellor’s office and the individual universities are actively working on implementing the state audit’s recommendations and the state law’s requirements.

This includes completing reviews of its university’s collections and creating a systemwide NAGPRA policy. The CSU is forming a working group of internal and external partners to draft it and will be hosting listening sessions to get feedback from tribal communities throughout the state, which will be incorporated into the policy.

According to the chancellor’s office, each campus will hire a full-time experienced NAGPRA coordinator, creating systemwide campus committees that will have Native American tribal representation in direct consultation with the Native American Heritage Commision. The commission is vetting and confirming all nominations, including a prohibition on using items in CSUN’s collections in teaching and research.

Reeder said CSUN is committed to complying with the state and federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Acts.

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