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Attorney General Lockyer Announces Return of Ishi's Ashes to Native American Tribal Descendants

Friday, May 12, 2000
Contact: (415) 703-5837

(OROVILLE, Calif.) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced that legal proceedings he initiated last year have concluded successfully, allowing the Pit River Tribe and Redding Rancheria to reunite and rebury the remains of Ishi, California's most well-known Native American

"The return of Ishi to his tribal home land will help bring closure to a sad chapter in California Native American history," Lockyer said. "The legal action was taken in respect and honor of the diverse cultures that make up the Golden State."

Anthropologists report that Ishi was the last member of the Yahi tribe who in 1911 emerged from hills of Tehama County and entered Oroville after spending years in hiding to avoid detection and attack from non-native Californians. In his last years, Ishi lived and worked at the University of California Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology in San Francisco. He died of tuberculosis in 1916.

Upon his death, Ishi's remains were cremated and interred at Olivet Memorial Park in Colma, and his brain was removed, in violation of tribal beliefs, and sent to the National Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. According to Native American customs and beliefs, a tribal member's complete human remains and their personal possessions must be buried within the geographical territory of their tribal group.

Last year, Attorney General Lockyer and the California Native American Heritage Commission initiated legal proceedings in San Mateo Superior Court to allow Ishi's tribal descendants to reclaim Ishi's remains in order to provide a proper burial according to tribal custom. Under California law, repatriation of Native American remains and associated grave artifacts is the preferred public policy. However, state law also requires that a California court be persuaded by reasonable cause before allowing the removal of human remains for relocation.

Attorney General Lockyer's legal action contended that because state law favors repatriation and that Ishi was not buried according to tribal customs and tradition, Ishi's cremated remains should be released to those tribal representatives most closely related to Ishi. The San Mateo Superior Court agreed on April 12, 2000, authorizing representatives from the Pit River Tribe and Redding Rancheria to remove Ishi's ashes from the Colma cemetery.

The Smithsonian Institution also recently agreed to return Ishi's brain to the Pit River Tribe and Redding Rancheria. Attorney General Lockyer, Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, Senator Patrick Johnston and Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg and others had joined efforts of California's Native American community to persuade the Smithsonian to return Ishi's brain to his tribal descendants. The reburial of Ishi now is being handled by representatives of the Pit River Tribe and Redding Rancheria.

Lockyer made the announcement today in Oroville during the "Ishi: Past, Present and Future" conference hosted by the Butte County Native American Cultural Committee.

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