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SFSU Public Affairs Press Release

Published by the Public Affairs Office at San Francisco State University, Lakeview Center.

Contact: Ted DeAdwyler
Merrik Bush-Pirkle
phone: (415) 338-1665

S.F.State to host one of the country's first workshops on chemical contamination of American Indian artifacts

Tribal leaders and experts to seek solutions to dilemma at gathering Sept. 29-30, Oct. 1

SAN FRANCISCO, September 8, 2000 --- In one of the first conferences of its type in the country, San Francisco State University's California Studies Department will host a three-day workshop examining the chemical contamination of California Indian artifacts being returned to tribes under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) on Sept. 29-30 and Oct. 1.

The conference, which will be held in the Seven Hills Conference Center on the campus, is free but advance registration is required. The gathering, which is expected to attract more than 100 tribal leaders, scientists, museum officials and public policy representatives, comes as increasing numbers of museum materials are being returned to tribal ownership.

As a result, museums and tribes nationwide face the dilemma of how to handle tribal materials found to have been treated with hazardous chemicals, including various pesticides and toxins designed to help preserve the precious items and kill insects, rodents and mold. At this time there is no known way to remove the poisons, but there are methods to test for their presence and to minimize the health risks to descendents, say SFSU anthropologists Niccolo Caldararo and Lee Davis, who are organizing the conference.

"People who touch the artifacts without protective clothing or breathe the air around them are at risk of being exposed," said Caldararo, an adjunct professor of anthropology at S.F. State and chief conservator of the Conservation Art Service in San Francisco.

Davis, who directs the California Studies Program at S.F. State, said the issue is a perplexing one for both museum officials and tribal leaders. "The beautiful Indian materials are coming home to the tribes clothed in dangerous invisible wrappers," said Davis, who received a $75,000 grant from the National Park Service for the project. To address these issues, S.F. State has worked with the Hoopa Tribal Museum to create an artifact analysis lab on campus. Pesticide contamination results from preliminary artifact tests have been conducted by Peter Palmer, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at S.F. State, and will be presented on the first day of the workshop.

The conference begins Sept. 29 with presentations on the history of ethnographic materials in museum collections, the health risks posed to humans by contaminated repatriated materials and the protective procedures tribes can take. Speakers will include medical toxicologist Monona Rossol, David Goldsmith and Enrique Manzanilla of the Environmental Protection Agency, Tom Kearney of California Poison Control, Nancy Odegaard of the Arizona State Museum and Jane Sirois of the Canadian Conservation Institute .

On Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, the conference will focus on what tribal leaders, scientists and public policy officials can do to address the problem. Speakers will include Larry Myers, executive secretary of the California Native American Heritage Commission; Deron Marquez, chair of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians; David Hostler, director of the Hoopa Tribal Museum; Chuck Smythe of the Smithsonian Institution; and Leigh Kuwaniwisiwma, director of the cultural office of the Hopi Tribe.

The conference is funded by the National Park Service and S.F. State's Office of the Dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. To register for S.F. State's Chemical Contamination of Repatriated California NAGPRA Materials conference, call Niccolo Caldararo at (415) 338-3004 or send e-mail to

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