Watchlist: ‘UC Berkeley has been slow to repatriate Native American remains’

04.13.2023 Kamiah Koch Watchlist


By Kamiah Koch

Social media/digital journalist

In 1990, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which requires institutions to return stolen ancestral remains to their respective Native American communities, was approved.

According to a ProPublica investigation, more than 30 years after the act was passed, 200 institutions have not repatriated any of the more than 15,000 remains held in their collections as of December 2022.

NBC News shared this story on its YouTube channel, comparing Harvard University, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the University of California Berkeley, which were reported to all still be in possession of Native American remains. Of those institutions, UC Berkeley had the most, citing 9,058 remains.

The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indian Tribe is fighting to get 1,400 of their ancestors’ remains repatriated from UC Berkeley.

 “We found them in rows of shelves, sometimes their skulls separated from the rest of bodies,” Nakia Zavalla, one of the Tribal members who is fighting to restore the remains, said. “It was horrific. I can’t believe that that practice ever existed – to go out and unearth human remains to take them back to a lab or to a higher institution or a museum for them to evaluate.”

To make matters worse, when UC Berkeley did return 1,400 remains in 2018, NBC News said Berkeley notified the Chumash people that six more remains had been found in a lab in 2020, and the Tribe learned there are still more missing.

An infographic created by NBC News compares the large institutions still in possession of Native American human remains more than 30 years after the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was passed in 1990. (Smoke Signals screenshot)

If you would like to watch the full NBC News report, you can visit or find it linked in the Smoke Signals Watchlist on our YouTube channel.