UC Berkeley Repatriation Update

On April 20, 2023, the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs wrote a letter to Michael V. Drake, President of the University of California, Berkeley addressing the University’s alarmingly slow progress in repatriating its collections under NAGPRA. See attached letter: NAGPRA Compliance Letter – University of California, Berkeley.pdf

The Senate wrote that repatriation under NAGPRA was predicted to be nearly complete within five years; however, three decades later, UC Berkeley has yet to fulfill its statutory duties. According to experts, it may take an additional 70 years for the University to completely fulfill its repatriation obligations. In the Senate’s opinion, this progress is “simply unacceptable.”

UC Berkeley is one of many institutions failing to comply with NAGPRA. According to ProPublica, 200 institutions still possess the remains of an estimated 14,000 Native American ancestors. The slow-moving progress has been a burden to tribes. The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians was able to claim and return home 1,400 items from UC Berkeley’s collection in 2018, but it took a decade of fighting to achieve. Nakia Zavalla, Cultural Director for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, described the storage conditions of the ancestors as “horrific,” with skulls separated from the rest of the skeletal remains. Hear her testimony on the following ProPublica news story which aired on MSNBC in March 2023: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BDudeHtgWg

On November 16, 2023, NAGPRA will be 33 years old. With over 9,000 items left for UC Berkeley to repatriate after more than three decades, the timeline for repatriation appears not only uncertain, but unprioritized. UC Berkeley must take immediate steps to fulfill its long overdue duty to repatriate remains and reconsider the misconduct that will burden a new generation, if left unchanged. To hear more about these serious violations of NAGPRA, please view the ProPublica background reporting: America’s Museums Fail to Return Native American Human Remains — ProPublica