Museum Returns Objects to San Manuel Band of Mission Indians

The San Bernardino County Museum announces the repatriation of culturally significant objects made by matriarchs of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. Coinciding with the annual National Native American Heritage Month, the approval for the transfer took place at the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors’ Nov. 17 meeting.

At a time when socio-cultural awareness is on the rise, the nationally accredited San Bernardino County Museum is applying its collections management policy in a manner that foregrounds the principles of diversity, equity, access and inclusion.  

The museum’s decision also demonstrates what the champions of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) intended when it was passed 30 years ago. Enacted on November 16, 1990, this Federal law granted rights and established procedures for tribal governments to request the repatriation of ancestors’ remains and certain cultural material in museum collections. The San Bernardino County Museum regularly consults with tribes regionally and across the country to ensure that all their indigenous collections are in compliance with this federal mandate.  

“The transfer of these objects, which the Museum acquired in the 1980s, is a meaningful step in the acknowledgment that the Museum’s historical collecting practices have had negative impact on the Tribal community’s self-reliance and control of their own cultural heritage,” said Museum Director Melissa Russo. “We offer reconciliation and healing with this repatriation and propose a positive and transparent future partnership with San Manuel centered on our mutual goal of building cultural literacy in our region.”  

San Manuel has long supported public education about Serrano culture and California Native history. Educating partners and the public about the Native Californian experience is ingrained in their tribal values. The Tribe has also established several departments and committees dedicated to the protection, preservation, and promotion of Serrano history and culture. San Manuel is also an advocate for the sovereign stewardship of tribal land and the cultural resources that it contains, including resources removed over the last 200 years from the tribe’s ancestral territory and their living community. 

The decision was welcome news to the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. “These items are representative of the Serrano way of life and have deep meaning for us.  We are bringing home the work of the hands of prominent women in our community—works that have their prayers, songs, and spirits embedded within them. It is a bittersweet homecoming, but one that will bring healing and joy for generations to come. We appreciate the San Bernardino County Museum staff for recognizing how significant these items are to our Tribe and for their ongoing partnership,” stated Chairman Ken Ramirez. 

“The Board of Supervisors is gratified by the positive relationship that has been building between the County Museum and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, underscored by this repatriation,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Curt Hagman. “We fully support the Museum’s recommendation to transfer this cultural material, especially in light of the considerable meaning they hold for our Tribal partner.”

The San Bernardino County Museum’s exhibits of regional cultural and natural history and the Museum’s other exciting events and programs reflect the effort by the Board of Supervisors to achieve the Countywide Vision by celebrating arts, culture, and education in the county, creating quality of life for residents and visitors.

The San Bernardino County Museum is at 2024 Orange Tree Lane, at the California Street exit from Interstate 10 in Redlands. Parking is free. The Museum is currently closed to the public due to the Governor’s orders. For more information, visit The museum is accessible to persons with disabilities. 

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