Bill Lockyer Discusses How a Lawsuit Brought a Proper Burial for Native American Ishi

Bill Lockyer

March 5, 2021

Bill Lockyer recently discussed how a lawsuit brought a proper Native American burial for Ishi.

Native American communities have been marginalized across the country for decades. In fact, numerous universities and museums have been holding collections of Native American bones for visitors to view and enjoy. This is something that would never happen with European skeletons. Bill Lockyer recently discussed how some colleges, museums, and other institutions can make amends with Native Americans and how some have done so already.

“For years, museums and some institutions have been disrespecting the native community,” Bill Lockyer said. “My litigation in 2000 helped launch the return of Ishi’s remains.”

Former Attorney General Bill Lockyer explained that he litigated to return the remains of one of California’s best-known Native Americans, Ishi, to the descendants of his tribe. The litigation was successfully concluded in May of 2000, with the law stating that Ishi’s remains must be returned.

Lockyer explained that many universities and organizations have taken down Native American displays of skeletons and individual bones. However, they have refused to return the bones to their rightful families and tribes. Organizations have been claiming they need these massive collections of bones for study.

Lockyer explained that Ishi was the last living member of the Yahi Tribe. He entered Oroville in 1911, after years in isolation to avoid attacks from non-native residents of California. BillĀ explained that Ishi’s final years were spent living and working at the University of California Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology in San Francisco.

“Ishi and all native communities in California deserve our respect,” Bill Lockyer said. “We all know issues like this would never happen with the remains of Europeans, and it’s important for us to fight for what’s right for the descendants of Ishi and so many others.”

Bill Lockyer explained Ishi died in 1916 and his remains were collected and inspected in Colma, Calif. In a blatant form of disrespect, Ishi’s brain was removed, which stands in violation of his tribal beliefs. The brain was then sent to the Smithsonian Institution. Bill Lockyer finished by stating that his lawsuit was geared toward reclaiming Ishi’s remains and providing him with a proper burial according to his Yahi tribal customs.

A recent law put in place by the State of California stated that all items need to be returned to Native American groups within the state whether they’re federally recognized or not. Bill Lockyer hopes this new legislation will be the motivation other organizations need to do the right thing.