Led by a presidentially appointed committee, Cal Poly Pomona has undertaken a campus-wide effort to implement federal and state requirements related to the rights of Native Americans and Indigenous communities to their ancestral human remains and cultural items.
The federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), passed in 1990, requires that any agency or institution receiving federal funding return Native American cultural objects and human remains to lineal descendants and tribes that demonstrate a cultural affiliation.
California enacted related legislation in 2001 (CalNAGPRA) to ensure compliance by state entities and to expand the list of tribes to include a number of California Indian nations not on the federal list. In September 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill No. 275, which revises CalNAGPRA to adjust the process by which the repatriation takes place and expands tribal access to both the process and method of recourse.
Last month, President Soraya M. Coley formally launched the Presidential Advisory Committee on Native American Cultural Affiliation and Repatriation to the lead the campus’ efforts to meet both the spirit and the legislative requirements of the state and federal laws. University Library Dean Pat Hawthorne chairs the nine-member committee, which features representation from students, faculty and staff.
“First and foremost, the committee is focused on ensuring the careful and appropriate identification and repatriation of these items and artifacts that are of such essential importance to tribal communities and ensure they can claim these artifacts, but we also see this as an opportunity to increase the awareness of the campus community about the history, culture and contributions of Native Americans and foster long-term relationships between Cal Poly Pomona and Indigenous communities,” said Hawthorne. “As a key part of the process, we will work with Native American tribal representatives to offer a range of educational opportunities — such as speaker events and panel discussions — and also bolster courses and academic resources for students and faculty. These efforts will help us learn more about each other and develop a deeper appreciation for Native American communities and their history and traditions.”
To head a critical component of the committee’s work, Sandy Kewanhaptewa-Dixon (Hopi), professor and former chair of the Department of Ethnic and Women’s Studies, serves as Repatriation Tribal Liaison. In this role, Dixon carries the primary responsibility of working with tribes to foster consultation and coordinate efforts on the subsequent repatriation. She will work with the newly formed California Indian Advisory Council as the primary collaborative channel between the committee and tribal representatives. Dixon will work closely with a Cultural Artifact Repatriation & Preservation Coordinator to facilitate the consultation and repatriation process. The position is currently in recruitment.
“This is a unique opportunity to build Cal Poly Pomona’s ties to our region’s tribal communities,” said Dixon. “It’s exciting because we’ll be able to extend these relationships beyond CalNAGPRA compliance and create viable and actionable recognition at Cal Poly Pomona of the Native American history of the region and how Native knowledge can inform disciplines across the university.”
The committee has already begun its work in earnest. They have completed a campus-wide survey across all colleges and divisions, identifying 136 objects to be included as part of a preliminary inventory for submission to the California Native American Heritage Commission. On March 24, the committee, along with Pres. Coley and other campus representatives, will welcome members of the Tribal Advisory Council to campus to continue the collaborative relationship central to Cal Poly Pomona’s compliance with CalNAGPRA.
For additional information and the full list of the committee members, please visit the committee webpage on the Office of the President website.