NAGPRA at CSULB

CSULB Officials Flout Federal Law

The planned strip mall is not the only contentious issue between Cal State Long Beach and local Indians. CSU officials have also filed suit in federal court over the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

NAGPRA requires all universities and museums to initiate a process for the return of the Native American burial remains and associated funerary objects, sacred objects, and cultural patrimony. Summaries of the collections were to be provided by November 16, 1993, and affected Native Americans notified so that they could participate in the inventory process. Complete inventories of all human remains as associated grave goods were to be completed in consultation with affected Native Americans by November 16, 1995.

After the first deadline had already passed, campus officials realized that they had human remains from the important Los Altos site about a mile from campus. The most likely descendents who should have been notified about these remains under NAGPRA included many of the plaintiffs in the Puvungna lawsuit. After consultation with the law firm representing the CSU in the Puvungna lawsuit, Nossaman, Guthner, Knox & Elliott, campus officials decided to file another lawsuit (CV 93-7272-LEW (SHx) in the U.S. District Court in Santa Ana on December 2, 1993, which stated in part:

On November 23, 1993, as confirmed in a report to officials on December 1, 1993, the professor of anthropology directing the inventory program accessed certain storage facilities that had been maintained exclusively by Keith Dixon, a former professor at the Long Beach campus, and there discovered human remains together with artifacts. Indications are that the human remains and accompanying artifacts are Native American, and that they were removed in 1938, 1953, and the mid-1970s from at least three archaeological sites in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. The University is seeking an explanation of Dr. Dixon’s storage of human remains, which has occurred without the knowledge or consent of the administration University.

The lawsuit’s accusation that Dr. Dixon stored human remains without the knowledge or consent of the administration is false. In fact, the Los Altos site (LAn-270) was excavated in 1953 by CSULB students under the direction of the former Chair of the Department of Anthropology, Dr. Ethel Ewing. The material was stored in the CSULB archaeology lab where it remained until 1993. A paper on the Los Altos collection was published in the Pacific Archaeological Quarterly in 1973, by Dr. Eleanor Bates, a Professor and later Chair of the Department of Anthropology at CSULB.

This attempt to blame Dr. Dixon for the oversight of campus officials charged with compliance with NAGPRA must be placed in context. Dr. Dixon is the archaeologist who filled out the forms to place Puvungna for the National Register. Although the University was notified of this in the review process by the Office of Historic Preservation, campus officials claimed that Dixon “unilaterally” registered the site.

In the view of at least one administrator, Dixon “has been a thorn in the side of CSULB for a number of years” who “cooperated with and participated in an effective and thorough job of inflaming the sentiments of a small group of Native Americans” regarding the Puvungna site. “For almost 20 years Dixon has built his professional reputation on his studies regarding the existence of the lost village of Puvunga on the CSULB campus,” and “Dixon’s true intent in preventing any development of the Site is to prevent any further studies or actions that would continue to proved that his studies are wrong.”

The NAGPRA lawsuit was filed on December 2, the day before the Native American Heritage Commission held its special hearing on Puvungna at the Long Beach Public Library. The same attorneys are involved in both cases. The day after filing this NAGPRA lawsuit, these attorneys appeared at the Puvungna hearing and falsely accused Dr. Dixon of incorrectly identify the remains on LAn-235 as Native American. The lawyers claimed that the remains may have been those of a Mexican cowboy! Fortunately, Dr. Dixon was at that meeting and was able to provide documentation that the identification was correctly made by Dr. Judy Suchey, the forensic anthropologist at CSU Fullerton who is the LA County Coroner’s consultant on such matters. Two CSULB physical anthropologists, Dr. Eleanor Bates and Dr. Stewart Shermis were also present during the examination and identification.

Campus officials also claim that there are conflicts between NAGPRA and state repatriation law that need to be resolved. However, other universities in California, such as Stanford, UCLA, and UC Berkeley, are complying with the law with no need of a lawsuit. As far as is known, hundreds of institutions nationwide are complying with NAGPRA. Only one university has filed a lawsuit, CSULB.

It is not clear how much the University is spending on this legal case (which is still pending), nor whether this is coming from the General Fund. The CSU legal counsel has refused to provide any information on this. One source estimates that the figure is “in six figures.”


This document was posted on July 21, 1995

eruyle@csulb.edu