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UC Berkeley Returns Thousands of Ancestral Remains to Indigenous Peoples: ‘Restorative Justice’

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Justin Sullivan/Getty UC Berkeley

The remains of thousands of ancestors will be returned to native tribes by the University of California at Berkeley.

“It was not right for past generations to dig up their remains and take them to Berkeley or wherever,” Ted Hernandez, chairman of the Wiyot tribe, told CNN of the decision to return the remains. “But people can learn from their mistakes and the new generation finally got to see why it was wrong.”

The Wiyots were living on the island of Duluwat in northern California when white settlers massacred dozens of women, children and the elderly in an annual ceremony held by the tribe in 1860, according to CNN .

The tribe, along with other indigenous peoples, will have the remains of their ancestors returned as part of the university’s compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

“UC recognizes that the injustices perpetrated against Hawaiians and Native Americans are mirrored even to the present, and that as long as human remains and cultural artifacts remain under the control of the university, healing and reparation will be incomplete,” the university said on its website. .

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Sabrina Agarwal, a bio-archaeologist and chair of the NAGPRA committee at UC Berkeley, told CNN she hopes the return will “rebuild” relationships between indigenous tribes and museums and institutions that hold their property “without their consent. for more than 100 years”.

“It’s part of restorative justice across the country. If we want to rebuild those relationships, repatriation is the first step,” Agarwal said. “There can be no healing or restoration of trust without repatriation.”

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Hernandez told CNN the decision is a step in the right direction when it comes to healing long-standing wounds felt by Native tribes across the country.

“Those people who think it’s no big deal or it doesn’t matter: imagine someone going to your cemetery, digging up your ancestors, packing them in boxes and putting them on a shelf” , did he declare. “Our ancestors shouldn’t be in boxes or on shelves, they should be at home with their families.”

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UC Berkeley’s NAGPRA committee, made up of three faculty members and three tribal community members, has so far returned at least 1,000 ancestral remains and more than 53,000 other artifacts, Agarwal told CNN. .

“We had our bad days with Berkeley when they wouldn’t work with us, so we were definitely skeptical at first, but I saw the honesty of the staff today and how much they want to help,” Hernandez says. . “We’ve been through a lot. We’ve been slaughtered, enslaved and driven out. So trust is a tough word, but we’re getting there slowly. It takes work.”