Vernon Belcourt Has Died - Rally Spurs Tribes, Allies To Escalate Protest Against University
Vernon Belcourt, AIM leader, spokesman and orator for the Native Peoples passed away this afternoon (Saturday Oct 13th) in Minnesota.
Triumphant Rally Escalates Protest Against UC Berkeley
Chancellor Ignores Sovereign Tribes Once Again; Native Americans to Proceed with Lawsuit and Demand Respect from Regents, UC System President
Submitted by Western Shoshone Defense Project
BERKELEY, Calif., Oct. 8, 2007 – After a dramatic demonstration that attracted hundreds of Native Americans, tribal leaders and social justice allies from around the country, the Native American NAGPRA Coalition (NANC) today announced it would escalate its protest against the University of California at Berkeley and the entire UC system.
The three-hour rally and Chancellor Birgeneau’s continued refusal to meet with the Coalition have energized Native American opposition to the elimination of the tribally approved UCB NAGPRA unit, the biased UC repatriation committee process, the failure of the University to comply with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and the complete disrespect on the University’s part toward Federally recognized tribes.
“Friday’s rally was a remarkable show of unity and support for just Native American claims on our ancestors’ remains and sacred objects,” said Mark LeBeau, a citizen of the Pit River Nation and NANC spokesman. “We intend to build on the momentum and take our protest to the courts, Congress, the state legislature, the Regents and the new acting UC system president, Rori Hume. Berkeley’s Chancellor Birgeneau has snubbed tribal nations multiple times, and now refers us to his assistants. We will not negotiate with underlings. We will not tolerate disrespect, and we expect California public officials to repudiate it as well.”
Friday’s demonstration was prompted by Chancellor Birgeneau’s original refusal to meet with NANC concerning the elimination of the Hearst Museum’s autonomous NAGPRA unit. This unit was a highly trained, cohesive team that fairly and impartially administered federal NAGPRA and a soon-to-be-implemented state law (AB 978) affecting the second largest collection of Native American ancestral remains and sacred objects in the Nation.
NANC strenuously rejected the University’s decision-making process, which deliberately and completely excluded Native Americans, and denounced the anti-NAGPRA bias in the resulting organizational structure.
Over the last several months, however, NANC has also recognized that the problems are far broader and more systemic, and include the lack of fair Native American representation on repatriation committees, the failure of UC to meet NAGPRA-mandated tribal consultation requirements, and the system’s unwillingness to acknowledge that Native American ancestral remains belong to Native Americans. The Coalition will adopt a comprehensive and aggressive strategy to deal with all of these problems.
The demonstration started at noon on Friday in UC Berkeley’s famous Sproul Plaza, the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement. It began with prayers and traditional healing ceremonies; included passionate speeches and poems from tribal leaders and other Native Americans; and was interspersed with ceremonial drumming and singing. After an hour, a throng of hundreds marched peacefully to California Hall to again request a meeting with the Chancellor.
The Chancellor was “unavailable.” Assistant Chancellor Beata FitzPatrick emerged briefly from the building to say, without apparent irony, “Our Chancellor has very great respect for native peoples.” She accepted the Coalition’s petition, and the group then moved on to the faculty glade, a former site of a Native American village. After a brief ceremony, the march continued and ended with a demonstration in front of the Phoebe Hearst Museum, where the remains of over 13,000 Native Americans are stored in basement drawers and boxes.
NANC members urged other tribes to join the Coalition and all Americans to insist that public officials redress the longstanding injustice that allows Museums and scientists to keep huge collections of Native American remains and conduct research that violates tribal religious beliefs.
Tribes and individuals can add their voices by contacting congressional and state representatives; by writing or calling Provost Rori Hume at the University of California Office of the President, 1111 Franklin Street, Oakland, CA 94607, 510-987-9020; or by writing or calling the Governor and other University Regents at the addresses listed at http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/regents/contact.html.
For additional information on the UCB NAGPRA issue, visit
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