A California state bill, which is expected to be signed into law later this year, would expand which Indigenous groups are able to request the return of human remains, funerary objects, and other sacred items from cultural institutions.
The new bill, titled AB-275 Native American Cultural Preservation, would build on the California Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 2001, by opening up the repatriation process to Indigenous tribes in California that are not federally recognized. The 2001 Act, which requires museums and other organizations to inventory human remains and funerary objects associated with Indigenous tribes in the state and provides a process by which tribes can request returns of such materials, only applies to federally recognized Indigenous tribes.
The still-pending AB-275, which Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to sign by September 30, would also change the way institutions create their inventories of objects by requiring them to consult with California Indigenous tribes when summarizing their holdings.
AB-275 would also establish a process by which the Native American Heritage Commission, formed by already existing law, would aid publicly funded agencies and museums in identifying California tribes. Additionally, it would enable the Native American Heritage Commission to work with both tribes that are federally recognized and those that are not to resolve disputes surrounding repatriation.
California assembly member James C. Ramos told the Art Newspaper that the bill has received “overwhelming bipartisan support in the California assembly and in its hearing in the senate.”
Shannon O’Loughlin, executive director of the Association on American Indian Affairs, told the Art Newspaper that there are “a lot of inconsistencies across institutions and in how federal and state processes work,” adding that, where California is concerned, the new bill “addresses what needs to be changed.”