Indian Tribe, UCSD Debate Fate of Ancient Remains

A UCSD committee will soon decide if ancient remains found
on campus property show evidence of cultural affiliation to the local Kumeyaay
American Indian tribe, the first step to ending a decades-long dispute over the
remains’ ownership and final resting place.

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The two skeletons in question were discovered during an
archeological dig at University House, the historic UCSD chancellor’s
residence, in 1976. Since that time, the remains have been held at the Museum
of Man
, the Smithsonian Institution
and the San Diego Archaeological

Gail Kennedy, a UCLA anthropology professor, was part of the
archeology class that first unearthed the remains over 30 years ago. The
archeologists uncovered an older woman and a younger man buried in a very
interesting ritual, in which the man had part of his fingers cut off and put in
his mouth, Kennedy said. The skeletons were dated to about 8,350 before
present, making them around 10,000 years old.

A long dispute has ensued between archeologists and Kumeyaay
tribe members, who want the remains returned to them so they can be properly

“We have a very strict religion on handling and burying
remains,” said Steve Banegas, spokesman for the Kumeyaay Cultural Repatriation
Committee, founded in 1997. “We treat them as if they are loved ones or family
members and rebury them. It’s a very intensive and long process.”

The federal Native American Graves Protection and
Repatriation Act of 1990 requires that institutions receiving federal funding
return American Indian cultural items and human remains to their respective
tribes. Under this act, local Kumeyaay Indians must prove to the UCSD NAGPRA
Working Group that the remains indeed belong to their tribe.

UCSD anthropology professor
and committee Chair Margaret J. Schoeninger said members will make their
decision based on evidence in the following categories: geography, kinship,
biology, archaeology, linguistics, folklore, oral tradition and history.

Schoeninger said the objective of the UCSD NAGPRA Working
Group is to review all the evidence before preparing a recommendation to Vice
Chancellor of Research Arthur B. Ellis.

However, Banegas said the Kumeyaay are offended that they
are even being asked to prove information they feel is well-known. The Kumeyaay
presented cultural songs, stories, maps and history at a Jan. 24 meeting to
show their ancient ties to the La Jolla area.

KCRC and the NAGPRA Working Group have met three times
during this academic year. At the latest meeting on Jan. 24, held at the Barona
Community Center
, the committee
reported on the status of its deliberations and the KCRC presented information
about the tribe’s history.

“We are hopeful that ongoing discussions with interested
parties and state agencies will result in a project that is sensitive to both
university needs and concerns expressed by members of the community,” UCSD
spokeswoman Dolores Davies said.

Banegas, however, said he was dissatisfied with the

“I had this belief that at an institution of higher learning
they would have been more open and there would have been a more diverse group
of people who would meet to learn and understand,” he said. “There’s so much
here that the committee refuses to hear or that they don’t want to hear. The
decent thing to do is to treat these remains as respected human beings. We’re
trying to right the wrong that’s been done for the last 20 to 30 years. We look
forward to the day of meeting with sincere people as equals.”

The Kumeyaay have also expressed concern about the proposed
demolition of University House, which since 2004 has been deemed unlivable. The
residence was nominated for a position on the National Register of Historic
Places in November.

Resting atop an ancient
American Indian burial ground and built in the unique “pueblo revival”
style, the property is viewed by historians as archeologically and historically

“Our goal is to have a University House that both meets our
chancellor’s residential needs and our programmatic needs and supports our relationships
with the community,” Davies said.

The plans for the repatriation will continue to move forward
regardless of the University House project, she added.

Schoeninger said the committee hopes to make a
recommendation to Ellis by the beginning of Spring Quarter. The recommendation
will then be transferred to the University
of California
’s NAGPRA Advisory
Committee, which will approve or reject it.

“The final decision is made by Provost [Wyatt R.] Hume in
the UC Office of the President,” Schoeninger said. “We are hopeful that will be
made during the summer at the very latest.”