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Coley launches Native American repatriation committee

By Janean Sorrell, Apr. 19, 2022

Cal Poly Pomona’s Presidential Advisory Committee on Native American Cultural Affiliation and Repatriation held its first meeting on March 24, to strengthen the university’s relationship with regional Native American tribes and work together to accomplish the goal of returning cultural artifacts such as human remains, funerary objects and sacred or cultural patrimony objects to their respective tribes.

University President Soraya Coley launched the committee back in February to comply with fulfilling the requirements of NAGPRA and California Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Currently CPP occupies 1,438 acres of land once belonging to the Tongva and Gabrielino peoples.

Sharon Wu | The Poly Post

“It’s a big deal,” said Alex Armendariz, Native American Student Center interim coordinator. “It might be under unfortunate circumstances, there’s a history of violence between academia and native communities, however, this is an opportunity to fix those things and to repair those relationships. It’s exciting, it’s not an easy task, but it’s an important task. I appreciate that the work is happening.”

Armendariz noted that CalNAGPRA enables both state-recognized tribes and non-recognized tribes, but whose homelands are here in California, to be able to repatriate those items.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 275, on Sept. 29, 2020, which became effective on Jan. 1, 2021. The new law revises CalNAGPRA by enhancing the processes by which public agencies and museums conduct outreach and repatriation of cultural objects to tribes and expands tribal access to those processes and methods of recourse.

According to Armendariz, prior to CalNAGPPA, tribes who were not federally recognized were unable to repatriate their cultural artifacts. Instead, these tribes would have to find a sponsorship with a federally recognized tribe to obtain their cultural artifacts back.

Currently there are 109 federally recognized tribal nations and 55 tribes who are not federally recognized in the state of California.

“We have to make sure that we continue to promote engagement with the local tribal representatives and the rest of the Native American community,” said Ethnic and Women’s Studies Department Chair Sandy Kewanhaptewa-Dixon, who serves as the repatriation tribal liaison on the campus’ committee. “Cal Poly sits on their land; we honor and respect that and I think they recognize that.”

According to University Library Dean Pat Hawthorne, chair of the committee, because CPP is an institution that receives federal dollars, the university must conduct a survey of campus to determine if the school has any items in its possession that meets the criteria as defined by federal law. The committee will then advise Coley on matters regarding implementation of federal and state legal requirements.

Hawthorne noted that the committee identified 138 items on campus that are eligible for repatriation. Most of which are held in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences’ Anthropology Department. The committee submitted its preliminary inventory list to the California Native American Heritage Commission on March 30.

With the preliminary inventories completed, the committee’s next step is to consult with California tribes who will review the items and documentation of which they may concur or offer alternatives to the information in the preliminary inventories’ findings.

The committee aims to submit the final inventories and summaries to the CNAHC by Jan. 1, 2023.

“Everyone is committed, and that’s the most important part, everyone is involved in this project; we are taking our responsibilities serious. The purpose is to advance and strengthen Cal Poly’s relationship with the location Native American tribes,” said Kewanhaptewa-Dixon.

The next steps for the committee are to hire a cultural artifact repatriation and preservation coordinator and develop a campus wide policy in the instance of discovering other cultural artifacts on campus.

Another key piece, according to Hawthorne, is to work with the California Advisory Council on educational and public programing.

“Part of the council’s role is to create these longer lasting relationships that help to influence both the curricular and co-curricular for our students and faculty,” said Hawthorne. “We could do public programming around the history and traditions and culture of Native Americans in the region.”

The presidential advisory committee consists of a nine-member board and includes: a provost designee and chair, vice president of Student Affairs designee, repatriation tribal liaison, repatriation coordinator, two Academic Senate appointed faculty representatives, ASI appointed student representative, VPSA appointed student representative and president’s designee.

“This is a wonderful project and a wonderful opportunity long overdue,” said Claudia Garcia-Des Lauriers, an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Anthropology, who serves on the committee. “We are in a really wonderful position to use this as a springboard for building longer term relationships with the indigenous communities, the local tribes that make up Southern California and also that make up our service area.”

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