Native Americans protest UC collection
October 6, 2007 4:39 PM
BERKELEY - Representatives from several Native American tribes led a protest on the UC Berkeley campus Friday, demanding the university return thousands of ancestral remains currently held in its anthropology museum.
The protesters accused the university of violating the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), a federal law requiring museums to return human remains for reburial by tribes. According to a Native American coalition formed in support of the Act, the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum holds over 13,000 remains and sacred objects in its collection and recently disbanded its NAGPRA unit during the museum’s reorganization process.
“The university demonstrated a complete lack of respect for the Native American voice,” said Mark LeBeau, member of the Native American NAGPRA Coalition (NANC) and Pit River Tribe. “The next step is a class action lawsuit. For once, the law will work for the native people.”
Hundreds of tribal members, students, and faculty from several campuses around the Bay Area gathered on the steps of Sproul Hall before marching to the Chancellor’s office to demand a face-to-face meeting.
Chancellor Robert Birgeneau was unavailable for comment, but Vice Chancellor Beata Fizpatrick came down to address the aggravated crowd.
UC Berkeley graduate student and SF State alum Jessica LePak said the protest was intended to raise awareness about the museum’s controversial collection.
“They need to repatriate the remains and sacred objects not just on this campus, but throughout the nation,” said LePak, member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans, “(Museums) are expected to follow the lead of U.C. Berkeley.”
SF State American Indian Studies professor, Phillip Klasky, brought a group of his students to the protest as a field trip. He said he is not asking his students to take sides, but wanted them to listen to the speakers.
“I want to encourage my students to understand all the complexities of the issue in terms of human rights,” said Klasky, “It’s up to the student how they will view the situation.”
Charles Walsh, a junior humanities major at SF State and enrolled in Klasky’s class, said the field trip led him to sympathize with the tribes.
“I think indigenous issues are sidelined and are closely connected to environmental issues,” said Walsh.
Another student in Klasky’s course, Andew Henderson, a freshman biology major likened the protest to watching film of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement.
“It’s more effective to live through it,” Henderson added.
Klasky added that scientists and tribes are involved in a tremendous culture clash.
In the meantime, the university’s reputation weighs in balance among people of Native American decent.
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