American Indian Council
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Native American Salt Song Singers will Travel from across the West to Mourn Ancestors Housed in UC Berkeley Basement
Award-Winning Singers from 14 Indian Bands to Perform Ancient Songs in UCB’s Sproul Plaza
BERKELEY, Calif, -- Tribal leaders and members of The Salt Song Project, a program of the Native American Land Conservancy (Non-Profit 501.C.3), conducted a historic Inter-Tribal ceremony at noon on January 22, 2008 in UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza. The ceremony mourned the thousands of Native Americans whose remains are stored in drawers and plastic bags a few hundred feet away in the gym basement adjacent to the Phoebe Hearst Museum.
Traditional Salt Song singers from fourteen bands of Southern Paiutes and Chemehuevi will traveled from Arizona, Utah, Nevada and Southern California to sing the last four songs from a 142 song cycle. The Salt Songs are mourning songs that traditionally begin at sundown and are sung through the night and into the morning before sunrise. The last four songs are extremely important for the purpose of the ceremony, which is to send the spirits of the Hearst’s skeletal remains back to their homelands and bring closure to their time here on Mother Earth. The desecration of Native burial sites by archaeologists has violated Native American ceremonial and religious beliefs about their ancestors.
“To me, the last four songs are the most important,” said Vivienne Caron Jake, Kaibab Paiute, who co-founded the Salt Song Project with Matthew Leivas, Sr., Chemehuevi. “The songs sing about the inevitable death and also the excitement and desire to get to the other side and how these individuals on the other side are waiting. The spirit that will soon join them is drooling at the mouth in excitement and just tasting what is referred to as the happy hunting grounds or heaven."
Vivienne Jake and Matthew Leivas, Sr. felt it was imperative to conduct this rite of passage ceremony to raise public awareness about the shocking lack of cooperation from UC administrators with tribal entities. Despite numerous resolutions from tribes and the National Congress of American Indians and thousands of letters and emails requesting repatriation, senior UC administrators have refused to meet with tribal leaders and have continued to deny tribes their lawful claim for the religious and ceremonial reburial of their ancestors. Thus far, UCB Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and UC system president Rory Hume have simply ignored requests to discuss the University’s administration of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and have referred all inquiries to Museum subordinates who lack the power and desire to change UC NAGPRA policies.
“We urge all Native Americans and social justice allies to bring drums, gourds or other instruments, if they like, to participate in this historic ceremony and support our effort to stop the desecration of our ancestors’ remains,” said Leivas. “We even extend an invitation to Chancellor Birgeneau, Provost Hume and the UC Regents, who might develop a better understanding of the profound sadness that UC policies have produced among Native peoples. They can drum along with us.”
The Salt Song Project has conducted similar ceremonies at Sherman Indian School Cemetery in Riverside California, Stewart Indian School in Carson, Nevada, and at the Old Woman Mountains in the Southern California Desert. For further information about the Salt Song Project, visit http://www.nativeland.org/saltsong2.html#ilrp or contact:
· Native American Land Conservancy, (760) 775-2204
· Cultural Conservancy, (415) 561-6594
· Chemehuevi Cultural Center, (760) 874-3052
· Matthew Leivas, Sr., (760) 858-4049
Matthew Leivas, Sr. Philip Klasky
Salt Song Project The Cultural Conservancy
(760) 858-4049 (415) 531-6890
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