In An Incredible Journey
Ancestors Returned to Salinan Tribe from Abroad

In a story that began over 140 years ago, after a long drawn-out process with many twists and turns, the ancestors were returned to their homeland on the Central Coast of California on May 11, 2012. In a serene setting with a grand view, they were re-interred in a solemn ceremony fitting for ancestors who had travelled all the way to the UK and waited over 100 years to be returned. Perhaps it was just for this purpose that they had to suffer being dug up, dismembered and placed on a shelf in a closet across the world in the first place. Perhaps it was to be brought back to their homeland by one of their descendants, one who was well acquainted with the political process, by one that would make it possible for future repatriation efforts of others, by one who was ‘cauled’ from birth.

About a year ago, the Salinan Tribe was notified that Birmingham University of England had discovered human remains, stored away in a bygone era, and were seeking to return them to their descendants. The decision for repatriation was made by Dean of Medicine, Paul Stewart and Dr. June Jones, the College Lead on Religious and Cultural Beliefs and Senior Lecturer on Biomedical Ethics. Dr. Jones sent emails to both the Salinan Tribe and the Elders of Santa Ynez Chumash, expressing the wish to return the remains to their homeland and offering an apology. The Salinan Tribe responded, appointing Tribal Traditional Lead, John Burch to over-see the ancestors’ return.

It soon became apparent to John Burch and Dr. Jones that this was no easy task they had taken on, when they were informed that US Federal law prevented human remains being returned from abroad. They were informed it was impossible. It had never been done. Luckily, they both possessed tenacious spirits and persevered through the winding political Red Road, seeking help and advice as they went. After a year, their hard work finally resulted in the ancestors’ homecoming. Along the way they had the help of the American Embassy in London, the British Museum, the US Department of State, US Customs, Office of Overseas Citizens Service, US Senator Dianne Feinstein and her office, the Native American Heritage Commission, and others who pointed the way. A special Thank You to Detective Dave Walker of the Coroner’s Office and his boss, Sheriff Ian Parkinson, who made the ancestor’s road smooth through San Luis Obispo County. A reverent thank you to the kind, unnamed people who helped the ancestors’ return to the Mother, you are greatly appreciated.

The final plan was to have Dr. Jones personally bring the ancestors home from the UK. When everything was worked out and prearranged, the flight booked, customs and coroners notified, ten days before the ancestors’ return, it began to unravel. One bureaucrat thought a piece was missing: a lot of shoe-shuffling was done. As if there was nudging going on from the ‘other side’, everyone who became involved with this repatriation wanted a good outcome and worked towards that goal. After all was said and done, no toes got stepped on, no one got kicked, and everyone was victorious. The ancestors returned to their homeland on May 9, 2012.

As the College Lead of Religious and Cultural Beliefs, Dr. Jones had a great interest in the ancestor’s history and homeland. John Burch and his fiancée hosted her and showed her as much as possible of Salinan territory. In the four days she was here, Dr. Jones had the opportunity to see both San Antonio and San Miguel Missions, had a quick tour of the Indians and Memorial Park, visited Morro Rock, heard the story, saw the icons, went to San Luis Obispo and saw that mission, the Carnegie Library, then Farmer’s Market to witness modern life. The last day of her trip ended with a grand finale of meeting many Tribal members at the Annual Barbecue. She was sent home with much gratitude, expressed in many ways. Thank you to Edna Burch for sending Dr. Jones home with all sorts of traditional cultural gifts, like elderberry wood whistles and clapper sticks, kelp bulb rattles, and acorn necklaces. Edna also gave Dr. Jones several of her wonderful pine needle baskets. Judging by her oft- repeated word, “Fabulous!” dear Dr. June Jones probably went home very tired, but well satisfied.

Words cannot express the depth of gratitude owed to Birmingham University, led by Dean of Medicine, Paul Stewart and Dr. June Jones, for all of their hard work and for financing the return of the ancestors, once they were discovered. Dr. June Jones has expressed a sincere wish to assist others in future efforts. Thanks also to the Head of History of Medicine, Dr. Jonathan Reinarz for his help. Dr. Jones received many acknowledgements, most notably a call from the current administrator of NAHC, Dave Singleton, who expressed gratitude on behalf of Governor Jerry Brown for the repatriation made by Birmingham University. Bully to Birmingham! Or Bravo! Or, most appropriately, Xayatspanikan! (Thank You!)

A most special Thank you to John Burch, Salinan Tribe Traditional Lead, for using his years of political experience in forging the path for future returns. The process he and Dr. Jones navigated shows other universities, museums and private collectors how to take a look in their own closets and repatriate to culturally affiliated tribes! John Burch has been pioneering the way for the return and honoring of all ancestors, for almost thirty years. Once again he has set a precedent that makes it possible for others to follow. Xayatspanikan! John Burch, it’s a good thing you won’t take no for an answer and that you don’t know the meaning of impossible!

Submitted by Roseanna Maxwell

Approved by John Burch, Traditional Lead

Please direct inquiries and comments to

You cannot copy content of this page