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Native Americans Sue UCSD Over Human Remains

A consortium of 12 San Diego Native American tribes has filed suit against the University of California, alleging that officials, including outgoing UCSD chancellor Marye Anne Fox and UC president Mark Yudof, are violating federal law by failing to repatriate two human remains that were unearthed by UCSD students in 1976.

The remains were estimated to be between 8977 and 9603 years old.

"The excavating was conducted as part of an undergraduate class that was engaged in an archaeological field research project on the University House [aka the University of California, San Diego, Chancellor's House]," according to the complaint, filed in federal court here Friday.

"The area of the excavation was well known to be rich with Native American burials and artifacts and several years ago was designated as a sanctified cemetery under California state law.

"The excavation in 1976 was led by Professor Gail Kennedy.

"After their discovery, Professor Kennedy took the remains to the University of California, Los Angeles.

"In the years since their discovery the Native American remains have been stored at numerous locations: UCLA; the San Diego Museum of Man; the National Museum of Natural History; the Smithsonian Institution; San Diego State University Department of Anthropology, and today are stored at the San Diego Archaeological Center by mutual agreement by [the Native Americans] and the UCSD."

The complaint says that the remains have been extensively studied since their discovery, "including a multi-decade research project at the Smithsonian Institution that was led by one of the world's 12 foremost forensic anthropologists, Dr. Douglas Owsley."

The suit notes that the Native American tribal consortium, known as the Kumeyaay Cultural Repatriation Committee (KCRC), "has over the years criticized the treatment and disrespectful handling and study of the Native American remains, especially the lacquering of the remains to preserve them. "

"Since 2000 KCRC has been requesting that the remains be repatriated.

"During this time the Native American remains and objects were still in the possession of UCLA.

"After a repatriation request was again made in 2006 by KCRC, the University of California, Office of General Counsel determined the request should be reviewed by UCSD since the Native American remains and objects were unearthed on the UCSD campus.

"The Native American remains were finally transferred to the UCSD in the spring of 2008."

Following years of complicated negotiations between the parties, a repatriation process was worked out, but three University of California professors have threatened to file suit to block the turnover, the consortium's filing says.

According to its complaint, the consortium "is unaware of whether the professors have filed their case against UCSD in state court."

Four years ago Thomas Larson wrote about the long-running controversy.

The Daily Kos updated the story in February.

A UCSD spokesman told Courthouse News Service that he had not yet seen Friday's complaint, but that "the campus has followed University of California procedures in seeking to address the treatment of the human remains and artifacts found on campus property in 1976."

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A consortium of 12 San Diego Native American tribes has filed suit against the University of California, alleging that officials, including outgoing UCSD chancellor Marye Anne Fox and UC president Mark Yudof, are violating federal law by failing to repatriate two human remains that were unearthed by UCSD students in 1976.

The remains were estimated to be between 8977 and 9603 years old.

"The excavating was conducted as part of an undergraduate class that was engaged in an archaeological field research project on the University House [aka the University of California, San Diego, Chancellor's House]," according to the complaint, filed in federal court here Friday.

"The area of the excavation was well known to be rich with Native American burials and artifacts and several years ago was designated as a sanctified cemetery under California state law.

"The excavation in 1976 was led by Professor Gail Kennedy.

"After their discovery, Professor Kennedy took the remains to the University of California, Los Angeles.

"In the years since their discovery the Native American remains have been stored at numerous locations: UCLA; the San Diego Museum of Man; the National Museum of Natural History; the Smithsonian Institution; San Diego State University Department of Anthropology, and today are stored at the San Diego Archaeological Center by mutual agreement by [the Native Americans] and the UCSD."

The complaint says that the remains have been extensively studied since their discovery, "including a multi-decade research project at the Smithsonian Institution that was led by one of the world's 12 foremost forensic anthropologists, Dr. Douglas Owsley."

The suit notes that the Native American tribal consortium, known as the Kumeyaay Cultural Repatriation Committee (KCRC), "has over the years criticized the treatment and disrespectful handling and study of the Native American remains, especially the lacquering of the remains to preserve them. "

"Since 2000 KCRC has been requesting that the remains be repatriated.

"During this time the Native American remains and objects were still in the possession of UCLA.

"After a repatriation request was again made in 2006 by KCRC, the University of California, Office of General Counsel determined the request should be reviewed by UCSD since the Native American remains and objects were unearthed on the UCSD campus.

"The Native American remains were finally transferred to the UCSD in the spring of 2008."

Following years of complicated negotiations between the parties, a repatriation process was worked out, but three University of California professors have threatened to file suit to block the turnover, the consortium's filing says.

According to its complaint, the consortium "is unaware of whether the professors have filed their case against UCSD in state court."

Four years ago Thomas Larson wrote about the long-running controversy.

The Daily Kos updated the story in February.

A UCSD spokesman told Courthouse News Service that he had not yet seen Friday's complaint, but that "the campus has followed University of California procedures in seeking to address the treatment of the human remains and artifacts found on campus property in 1976."

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