Letter From the Chair

September 8, 2020

As chair of the UC Berkeley anthropology department, I write to express my department’s support for the initiative to un-name Kroeber Hall. The act of un-naming, as we see it, takes an important step in addressing and acknowledging a long history of violence toward Native Americans in which UC Berkeley and the anthropology department are implicated. This act gives momentum to the long-overdue work of repair for historical injury. 

For anthropologists, it is crucial that we not let our fidelity to one of the discipline’s founding figures subvert this task — a labor that requires care, certainly in regard to generations past, but especially to the sentiments and sensibilities of living peoples who have experienced grave injustice. For this reason, my department unequivocally endorses the call, forcefully stated in last week’s op-ed by a group of Native students, to un-name Kroeber Hall.

We also applaud the authors of the op-ed piece for highlighting UC Berkeley’s failure to make adequate progress toward repatriating the vast number of Native American artifacts and human remains kept, in large part, in the storerooms of the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, an institution without any formal relation to the campus anthropology department. Despite the passage of the California Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation, or NAGPRA, Act of 2001 and California AB 2836 in 2018, which aimed to specifically improve the UC system’s repatriation procedure, we recognize that UC Berkeley has too long continued to use the most conservative interpretation possible under these laws, discounting traditional tribal knowledge on cultural affiliation and committing yet another act of injustice to Native American peoples who have sought repatriation. 

The proposal to un-name Kroeber Hall is an opportunity to reflect on the wide range of inactions that have done significant damage to the relationship of our discipline, department and campus with Native Americans in California and beyond. The faculty and students of the anthropology department are committed to playing an active role in supporting the recent, and significantly better, UC systemwide policy on repatriation and the important work of the NAGPRA Advisory Committee on campus, as well as learning ways to support UC Berkeley’s own Native American community through dialogue and listening.

Charles Hirsckind

Chair, Department of Anthropology