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Indian Remains Are Bones of Contention at Berkeley

Science: Professor calls them invaluable teaching tools, battles colleague and tribal leaders over return to museum.

April 27, 1998|MARY CURTIUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"These are not just a bunch of bones," she said. "They are remains from our ancestors and we have to treat them with dignity and respect."

White said that he has been unfairly portrayed as attempting to block repatriation. He believes in a strict interpretation of the law and speedy repatriation of any bones affiliated with federal tribes. He said he objects to handing over bones with no clear tribal affiliation, a move that he says could devastate the museum's collection and end his teaching.

"Perhaps I understand the value of these remains in a way that nobody else does," he said. "There are very few skeletal collections in the world representing hunting and gathering people. Ours is one of the largest. This tiny fraction of the Native Americans that were in California before contact with Europeans represents the major window which we have on the past in California."

Different Paths to Same Objective

The UC president's office and Berkeley's administration say that they feel caught between two impassioned academics fighting for the same goal--preservation of a priceless anthropological collection.

"Both Tim and Rosemary's views are perfectly legal," Stowsky said. "Tim says that a minimalist approach will satisfy the requirements of the law. Rosemary probably is closer to satisfying the spirit of the law. We disagree with Tim's contention that what the museum is doing is at all nefarious."

Joyce conceded that some knowledge will be lost to students if White cannot use Native American remains in the classroom. But every scientist, she said, must work within the confines of the law and in accordance with cultural norms.

"The notion of complete academic freedom is not realistic," she said. "It doesn't really exist. We always have to balance our academic freedom against various restrictions."

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