SACRAMENTO — In California, a state law requires universities to show their work trying to reunite native remains with the tribes they belong to.
Four years after Governor Gavin Newsom offered an apology for the state's historic treatment of Native Americans, Assemblymember James Ramos, who is a Native American, is calling out California universities that are failing to return those remains.
"The Cal State University system has failed to return almost 700,000 Native American remains," Ramos said in a news conference.
Federal documents show the details of the types of Native American collections held by California universities and the work to return them. A recent notice filed by UC Davis describes that human remains representing, at minimum, 39 individuals were removed from Amador County by a graduate student at the department of anthropology who was directing a salvage excavation in 1965.
Another notice, filed by Sacramento State, shows a collection of human remains representing 379 individuals of Native American ancestry from the 1967 excavation were located in a cemetary area known as the Rooney extension. The landowner gifted the collections to Sacramento State.
"It's heartwrenching to think they still have, you know, hundreds of collections across the state," said Tracy Foster-Olstad.
Foster-Olstad is the cultural resource officer for the Nor Rel Muk Wintu tribe who is working to identify if her ancestors' remains are in any university collections and is trying to get them returned.
"A lot of generational trauma has occurred," Foster-Olstad said. "We want to be recognized as a people and that we've been here for a real long time."
"It was clear that progress wasn't as good as tribal nations would have liked," said Sacramento State's Mark Wheeler.
Wheeler is helping to coordinate the overdue work to return the campus' Native American collections.
"The norms in academia have changed since the 1920s or 1880s, so some of that was from our own system," Wheeler said. "Some of us were from others given to us to hold."
A federal law called The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was passed in 1990 to force the return of tribal remains.
Assemblymember Ramos says UC Davis has notably returned 95% of its collections. Many CSUs are just starting the work.
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