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Tribe reburies repatriated remains

ANGELES NATIONAL FORREST, Calif. – An ancestor was returned and re-entered into the ground among native chaparral, yuccas and Jeffery Pine, some 5,200 feet above sea level after 54 years in a museum repository.

About a dozen tribal members of the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe reburied the bones of their ancestor and funerary objects that were first found by a construction crew installing a sewer line in 1954 at the Chilao Flats area of the Angeles National Forrest, the omnipresent mountain range overlooking the whole of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area.

“It was beautiful, very respectful and significant,” said tribal leader Anthony Morales of the hour and half long ceremony held Dec. 3 at Chilao Flats.

Morales said the ceremony included singing and preying in a native dialect of the Uto-Aztecan language and sage and gift offerings.

The ancestor was waiting long. He or she was first interred during the Middle period (800 B.C. to A.D. 100), archeologists postulated based on bead data only to be disturbed by the encroachment of modernity some 2,000 years later.

The excavation site contained 69 associated objects including fragments of a clay pipe, stone disc beads, various rock flakes and incised animal bones. Some of it was either lost or stolen during the early 1960s, according to Department of Interior records.

The remains were curated at Southwest Museum of the American Indian in Los Angeles and finally returned to the tribe via the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, a federally recognized tribe with a cultural affiliation to the Gabrielino-Tongva, a tribe not recognized by federal government. Only federally recognized tribes could receive Native American remains and objects under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. NAGPRA is a federal law passed in 1990 meant to provide a process for museums and federal agencies to return Native American cultural items to their descendants.

San Manuel Chairman James Ramos conducted a short ceremony Nov. 20.

“It was essential that we took steps to return the remains to the rightful decedents,” Ramos said in a press release.

Morales expressed gratitude for the assistance provided by the San Manuel tribe. “From the bottom of our hearts we thank the San Manuel that retrieved our ancestors for us,” Morales said.

Southwest Museum Acting Director Dr. Steven Karr said the museum was “very anxious” to return items to the tribe and said the repatriation of remains and items to tribes occurs regularly citing the recent return of regalia to the Apache tribe.

“We are constantly working with tribes specific to NAGPRA,” he said.

Since NAGPRA’s passage 32,000 individuals and 792,000 objects have been repatriated, according to the Department of Interior.

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