Increasing Accountability for Native Graves Repatriation Efforts in California | smbmi
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Increasing Accountability for Native Graves Repatriation Efforts in California

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October 12, 2023

Governor Newsom Signs Enforcement Legislation, AB 389,Increasing Accountability for Native Graves Repatriation Efforts in California

Passage of the assembly bill will aid in closing the gap between compliance issues

HIGHLAND, Calif. (October 11, 2023) - The passage of AB 389, the bill set to amend codes that will increase Native grave repatriation compliance in California, signals progress being made in reuniting Native families who have waited generations for the return of family history.

The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians (SMBMI) sponsored AB 389, the bill introduced and carried by Assemblymember James Ramos, which was prepared in response to the disappointing audit results revealing that the California State University (CSU) system has failed to comply with the California Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (CalNAGPRA).

A report from the California Auditor published in June found the following in relation to the CSU system’s compliance with CalNAGPRA: more than 700,000 tribal ancestral remains and cultural items in the system’s possession have yet to be repatriated to Indian Tribes; 12 of 21 CSU campuses with collections had not finished their reviews in alignment with Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA); two campuses returned items to Tribes without following the NAGPRA policy; and, overall, campuses’ lack of funding and staffing were detrimental to compliance with the law.

In an effort to rectify these findings, AB 389 aims to improve staffing requirements that will ensure CalNAGPRA guidelines are adhered to; increase Tribal consultation to support the repatriation of ancestral remains; and, require annual reporting for accountability. During a September 11th Senate Education Committee Hearing, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Vice-Chairman Johnny Hernandez, Jr. spoke in support of the new bill.

“The recently conducted audit is disheartening as it reveals the California State University System’s refusal to fully comply with NAGPRA laws to review and report collections to the Native American Heritage Commission,” SMBMI Vice-Chairman Johnny Hernandez says. “While the outreach from our local CSU is a step in the right direction, the pervasive inaction across the system cannot be ignored. We are grateful for the passage of AB 389 to hold California accountable and honor Native peoples.”

The 1990 federal NAGPRA protects Native American gravesites and created a process by which federally recognized tribes can request from government agencies and museums the return of their human remains and cultural items. In 2001, California went a step further and enacted CalNAGPRA, which provided a mechanism for California tribes that do not have federal recognition to submit repatriation claims to agencies, some agencies which are the CSU system. There were additional amendments in 2020 to CalNAGPRA requiring CSU campuses to inventory their collections of remains and cultural items, to consult with tribes before performing this review, and to report their collections to the Native American Heritage Commission. Tribes expect to work hand-in-hand with agencies and ensure priority is placed on tribal consultation so repatriation is done right once and for all.

About the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians  

The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians is a federally-recognized Indian tribe located on the San Manuel Indian Reservation near Highland, California.  San Manuel exercises its inherent sovereign right of self-governance and provides essential services for its citizens by building infrastructure, maintaining civil services, and promoting social, economic and cultural development.  As the Indigenous people of the San Bernardino highlands, passes, valleys, mountains and high deserts, the Serrano people of San Manuel have called this area home since time immemorial and are committed to remaining a productive partner in the San Bernardino region. For more information, visit

Media Contact: Heather Jackson, Dir. of Public Affairs
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