San Diego Native American thoughts this 2012 Memorial Day

Edited by Roy Cook

This Memorial Day think of the respectful tradition of Native American culture and people. Think also of how we honor all our military warriors, their final resting place in our many federal cemeteries and their honorable service to this Nation.

We also need to transcend the limitations of institutional confrontation and look at the underlying value of Respect for all Americans. Especially, we must recognize the basic respect for the values and perspectives that define a culture and the Native American people, the respect for our ancestors.

As an American Nation we carried over much of the basic principles of England: their language, their common law principals and many of their military tactics. Some of their advancements such as the abolition of slavery were a bit slower in taking root in this country. Now we have yet another example of what is the right thing to do regarding Native American remains. In a recent, May 20, 2012 LA Times, front page article:
Birmingham University returns Native American skulls to Salinan tribe in California

Posted at 12:59 pm in similar cases

Birmingham University has returned various skulls & bone fragments to the Salinan tribe in San Luis Obispo County, California, where they have been re-buried.

Returns of artifacts involving human remains from institutions in the UK have now become commonplace (although there are still many more cases awaiting consideration). Pressure from the British Museum has made sure that these are differentiated from those that don’t involve human remains. So, whereas once, they said nothing could be returned, when faced with political pressure, they categorized their collection, to allow some of it to be returned, but make no difference to the case for retaining the rest of it.

The memorial question demand is why on our San Diego La Jolla coast campus. And it is our most highly regarded institution of higher learning, UCSD, keeping Native American remains in some dusty drawer. Why is it so close minded to not return the well documented Kumeyaay remains to the local responsible tribal body, Kumeyaay Cultural Repatriation Committee (KCRC), to put these remains to rest in a respectful traditional manner?

The Kumeyaay had been identified as the, “most likely descendants” – MLDs, many times for similar finds in the region. In 2009, a story reported that the University of California withdrew a request to (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) NAGPRA’s review committee to repatriate the University House remains to KCRC, because KCRC objected to the request’s language that the remains were “culturally unidentifiable.” KCRC’s official statement claimed that they had provided “a mountain of evidence from linguistic, anthropological, archaeological and historical scholars to support their claim that these individuals [the University House skeletons] were indeed culturally affiliated with today’s Kumeyaay/Diegueno people.… This process sets a dangerous precedent for future claims, both from KCRC and other tribes whose ancestors may be in the possession of the UC.”

UC let our relatives find their rest. All this does is drive a wedge between the scientific community and Native communities, while ignoring the suffering of California Indians as a result of colonization, and the massive loss of land and culture brought on by the U.S.’s notorious mishandling of California Indian affairs. This is the least we can expect this Memorial Day.

Mehan, thank you.