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Chumash remains have been returned by the Natural History Museum under a new process

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Tribal artifacts and remains that have been in the possession of the Natural History Museum in Santa Barbara have been returned to the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.

The museum says the staff returned thousands of items, including human remains and associated funerary objects.

This is being made possible through the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). It is a federal law that provides a process for federal agencies and museums to repatriate or transfer from their collections certain Native American cultural
items including human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural
patrimony, to lineal descendants, and to Indian tribes, Alaska Native Corporations, and Native
Hawaiian organizations.

After receiving the NAGPRA claim in October 2021, museum curatorial staff inventoried and
packed all of the requested materials in an appropriate manner given the cultural sensitivities
associated with these human remains and items found with them in gravesites.

The museum said in a statement:


"The oldest remains to be repatriated were from the Arlington Springs Man, which consist of
three human bones discovered on Santa Rosa Island by Museum archaeologist Phil Orr in 1959. While excavating nearby, Orr discovered the bones, which due to erosion, were visible in a stream bank. These remains have been radiocarbon dated to 13,000 years old making them the oldest human remains yet found in North America. Kenneth Kahn, Tribal Chairman for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians shared, “These items have come home to our tribe, and it allows us to do the important work of repatriation and reburial. We continue to have a close working relationship with the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and consider it to be a collaborative partner in the community.” “The Museum has been honored to care for this important cultural heritage for many years and now finds it deeply satisfying that we can transfer custody back to the Chumash community,” added Museum President and CEO Luke J. Swetland. While NAGPRA facilitates repatriation for federally recognized tribes like the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, other Chumash bands are recognized under the broader state law, CAL-NAGPRA. SBMNH looks forward to working with California native communities to ensure that human remains and associated items are appropriately restored to their rightful decedents.

Swetland told Newschannel 3-12, "in our view everything has gone home where it should be."
Federal recognized tribes that had a cultural affiliation with those holdings could  request their  repatriation and return. That's exactly what happened"

   The museum has a long standing and respectful relationship with tribe and also has a Chumash Hall with multiple exhibits of approved items and displays..     The rare ones protected with special care were transferred in a collaborated way.

"The museum has always had exceptionally good relations with all the Chumash bands we have a Native American Advisory council," said Swetland.

Overall, 37,000 artifacts were transferred.

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Exploring for artifacts by associates of the museum discontinued  over 50 years ago. "We stopped active field excavations in the '70's  because cultural sensitivities changed," said Swetland.

With the remaining collections authorized for the public to learn from,  there is a commitment to the tribe and community. Swetland said, "it's about  handling ourselves with the highest professional integrity in how we cared for this really solemn, indeed this sacred cultural heritage. I'm delighted that is has all gone back home where it belongs. We did the right thing here."

For more information, visit sbnature.org.

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT News Channel 3. To learn more about John, click here.

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