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Proposed law could require UC campuses to speed up return of Native American artifacts and remains

Beth Thornton

Federal law requires states to return human remains and sacred objects back to their Native tribes — a requirement which extends to public universities.

However, astate audit this year discovered four UC campuses, including UC Santa Barbara, have not returned their collections of indigenous remains in a timely manner after studying them. The audit also named UC Berkeley, Riverside and San Diego.

This month, California State Senator Bill Dodd introduced legislation that would speed the process up.

“This is not something that should just take decades like it has. We should have a system in place that gets it done efficiently. So we're getting the information we want, and we return the remains to tribal lands as soon as possible,” Dodd said.

Senator Dodd said he wanted to get involved when he began hearing concerns from local tribes in his district.

“Tribes in Yolo County, Lake County and Sonoma County [are] all talking to me about this issue. And it's something that was really troubling,” Dodd said.

UC Santa Barbara is still reviewing their collection to see which items are permitted for repatriation.

Senator Dodd’s new legislation would ensure the implementation of the state auditor's recommendations that campuses have enough resources to return the remains.

The state auditor recommended campuses to work with tribes to create a detailed plan for them to follow and submit to campus committees and to hire repatriation coordinators when handling 100 or more remains.

The state auditors report said UC Santa Barbara agreed with their recommendations.

Local tribal chairman Kenneth Kahn of the Santa Ynez Chumash responded with a comment saying, “Our tribe is committed to the important work of repatriation -- laying our ancestors to rest and returning artifacts to their rightful place. We're aware of the proposed legislation and will monitor its progress.”

Senator Dodd says the legislation is expected to head to the state’s education committee for review by February or March 2023.

Gabriela Fernandez came to KCBX in May of 2022 as a general assignment reporter, and became news director in December of 2023. She graduated from Sacramento State with a BA in Political Science. During her senior year, she interned at CapRadio in their podcast department, and later worked for them as an associate producer on the TahoeLand podcast. When she's not writing or editing news stories, she loves to travel, play tennis and take her 140-lbs dog, Atlas, on long walks by the coast.
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