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The UCLA Fowler Museum & Collaborative Repatriation: An Analysis of NAGPRA Compliance Working with California Indian Tribes


Museums and archaeology are forever entrenched in the legacy of American colonialism. Early American anthropologists established their careers by studying American Indian songs, stories, kinship systems, food, material culture, languages, and bodies. Established in 1901, the University of California, Berkeley’s anthropology department began funding archaeologists’ excavations of California Indian graves against Native American requests. But the1960’s saw an emergence of social justice activism including the Native American Repatriation Movement (NARM), demanding the return of all Native ancestors and cultural objects stored at museums nationwide. As a result of NARM and the work of Native American and Indigenous activists, lawyers, students and allies, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was passed in 1990. Working collaboratively with tribes for decades, the UCLA Fowler Museum is widely regarded as the premier example of a successful repatriation approach within the University of California (UC) system. To date, the Fowler has repatriated nearly all Native American human remains in its collection, and continues to work to bring the last ancestors to their communities. In this thesis I use archival research to explain the history of repatriation at the UC, California Indian resistance and how UCLA differs from other UC’s in its repatriation approach. I examine two NAGPRA case studies at the Fowler Museum to explain how UCLA and the Fowler took a different approach to NAGPRA, bringing more ancestors home than any other UC.

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