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Detail of Plateau Bag (NMNH catalog no. E204234)

Executive Summary

The Human Remains of Ishi, a Yahi-Yana Indian, in the National Museum of Natural History Smithsonian Institution Report Recommendations for Repatriation

Region: California
Associated Cultures: Pit River, Yahi, Yana, Redding Rancheria

The National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), following consultations with Northern California Native Americans, will repatriate the human remains of Ishi, a Yahi-Yana Indian, under the repatriation provisions of the National Museum of the American Indian Act of 1989, as amended, 20 U.S.C. §80q et seq. Contrary to the commonly held belief that Ishi was the last member of his tribe, the Yana people of California, his closest relatives, have survived more than a century of warfare, disease, displacement, and cultural destruction. The museum has sought out the Yana people and consulted with them on issues of Yana language, culture, and history necessary to properly complete the repatriation process under the law. We offer to repatriate the remains of Ishi to the sovereign tribal governments that represent these Yana descendants.

Over the last two months the Repatriation Office of the National Museum of Natural History has consulted with Native American representatives of the Butte County Native American Cultural Committee, the federally-recognized Redding Rancheria and Pit River Tribe, as well as members of a number of California tribes not presently recognized by the federal government. Consultation is an essential element of the repatriation process and is mandated in the federal legislation governing repatriation. Consultation ensures that all concerned Native American groups have the opportunity to voice their concerns, contribute to the repatriation process, and secure their legal rights. This process has allowed the NMNH to provide information on its collections, policies, and repatriation efforts while at the same time ensuring that Native concerns and interests guide the repatriation of Ishi's remains. The return of Ishi's remains to California represents a first step in the much broader process of consultation and repatriation to return ancestral remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony of these and the other culturally affiliated tribes of Northern California. The Museum looks forward to continuing this important work and the positive steps that now have begun to take place with the tribes.

The National Museum of the American Indian Act provides that cultural affiliation is the basis for the repatriation of human remains and objects. The law prescribes a process of information gathering, through research and consultation, so that all perspectives, including Native and scholarly, will be included in the repatriation process. The law also mandates that determinations of cultural affiliation must be based on a "preponderance of the evidence" standard. This report summarizes available information on Ishi's cultural affiliation. The information includes anthropological and linguistic evidence on the culture of the Yana tribe, oral traditional information on the surviving Yana people of today, and historical records that document the Yana survivors who found refuge among other California tribes. Clearly, the Yahi band to which Ishi belonged was part of the larger tribal grouping known as the Yana or Noso . These lines of evidence support the findings of cultural affiliation and the decision to return Ishi's remains to the living Yana descendants and the representatives of their tribal governments.

The Smithsonian Institution acknowledges and respects that many California Native Americans feel a powerful connection with Ishi and consider it their responsibility to see that his remains are united and given a proper burial. The Smithsonian, too, shares the goal of returning Ishi's remains to California in a timely manner, provided that such return is consistent with the rights of living Native Americans who share a cultural affiliation with Ishi. Although the process of identifying the possibile living relatives has taken some time, the Smithsonian now is in a position to return Ishi to living relatives.

Like so many Native American tribes, the Yana were almost entirely destroyed, and as their numbers became smaller, they found refuge among their neighbors. Ishi was the last of a small band of Yana Indians who strived to survive in their homeland despite prolonged attacks. But Ishi and his band shared very close cultural ties with the larger Yana tribe whose descendants today continue living in their territory along the upper reaches of the Sacramento River in Northern California. These are Ishi's closest relatives and the communities that must lead the way in his return.

Ishi's immediate family can never be known because we are missing so many of the most important details of his family history. It is to his people, the Yana of northern California, that we now turn for guidance. The great majority of people of Yana ancestry live today in Shasta County, where most are members of the Redding Rancheria and the Pit River Tribe. These two federally-recognized groups therefore stand as the closest culturally affiliated Native American tribe, the tribes which share the strongest links of identity, culture, and history with Ishi.

In March of 1999, the Repatriation Office recommended that the Smithsonian Institution repatriate Ishi's remains to his descendants at the Redding Rancheria and the Pit River Tribe of California. The National Museum of Natural History notified the tribes that it was prepared to return Ishi's remains to the Yana people at the time and place, and in the manner, of their choosing.

The NMNH held Ishi's brain until the descendants could recover cremated remains from the cemetery in Colma, California, where they were held by a private mortuary. The state of California released those remains and the brain and cremated remains of Ishi have since been reunited. Ishi's remains were repatriated on August 10, 2000.

Repatriation Update
The remains were reinterred by the tribes shortly thereafter at an undisclosed location.

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