In 2001, the State Legislature passed AB-978, the California Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 2001 (Steinberg, 2001), requiring all state agencies and museums that receive state funding and that have possession or control over collections of human remains or cultural items to provide a process for the identification and repatriation of these items to the appropriate tribes. The bill also created a Repatriation Oversight Commission with oversight authority. The intent of the legislation was to cover gaps in the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (Udall, 1990) specific to the State of California.

After the Repatriation Oversight Commission’s remaining unfunded for over a decade, the Native American Heritage Commission (Commission) was granted oversight authority. In 2018, the State Legislature added additional Commission responsibilities under AB-2836 (Gloria, 2018), including providing technical assistance to the University of California (UC) in adopting policies and procedures adopted to expedite repatriation of remaining items in its possession.


AB-2836: Repatriation

AB 2836 requires the University of California to:

  • Establish and support a Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act Implementation and Oversight Committee systemwide and at each campus;
  • Adopt and implement certain policies and procedures to better implement the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act
  • Ensure that the campus committees implement the updated policies and procedures
  • Adopt procedures to support appeals and dispute resolution in cases where a tribe disagrees with a campus determination regarding repatriation or disposition of cultural items directly to the systemwide committee.

The bill also requires the California State Auditor to conduct an audit commencing in the year 2019 and again in 2021 regarding the University of California’s compliance with the federal and California acts and to report its findings to the Legislature and to all other appropriate entities.

NAGPRA Audit Report. In June 2020, the California State Auditor issued its initial audit on the UC’s compliance with state and federal laws protecting Native American human remains and cultural objects. More information, including the report in full, is available here.

UC Interim Policy. This summer, the UC issued an Interim policy on Native American Cultural Affiliation and Repatriation in order to allow tribes that have not been able to review due to the COVID-19 pandemic additional time to comment through November 15, 2020 with an anticipated finalization date of December 31, 2020. The Commission will hold a public hearing on October 15 to walk through key provisions of the Interim Policy via webinar, with participation information to be provided in the near term.


CalNAGPRA Oversight

The Commission is in the process of recruiting a CalNAGPRA/NAGPRA attorney to oversee the Commission’s CalNAGPRA program. The Commission has also contracted with California Indian Legal Services to assist with the creation and adoption of CalNAGPRA Regulations.

The Commission anticipates finalizing the list of CalNAGPRA-eligible California Indian tribes in the near term.