California Passes Laws to Expedite Return of Native American Remains from Universities

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Two new laws signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) require state public university systems to make progress in their review and return of Native American remains and artifacts.

State and federal legislation requires government entities to return such items, including prayer sticks and wolves’ skins, to tribes. However, a 2020 report from the state auditor found many college campuses lack the funds or clear guidelines to make progress in repatriation, reports the Associated Press (AP).

For example, because of a lack of cohesive guidelines at the University of California (UC) system, the UC Los Angeles campus has returned nearly all its remains and artifacts, while UC Berkeley, has returned only 20 percent.

At the California State University (CSU) system, more than half of the campuses with Native American remains and artifact collections have not returned any items to tribes, according to the report.

To compel the colleges toward action, the new laws will require the UC and CSU systems to report their progress in repatriating artifacts annually.

UC created a systemwide policy in 2021 to comply with repatriation laws. Ryan King, a UC president’s office spokesperson, told AP in an email that the system already bans these materials from being used for research unless specifically approved by tribes. Amy Bentley-Smith, a CSU chancellor’s office spokesperson, said the system is working to inform employees of inventory requirements.