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Bones of Discontent - Andrew Galvan carves a unique, controversial role in relocating Native American skeletons 

Wednesday, Nov 21 2007
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Protocols for handling such remains changed in the early 1980s with the advent of the California Native American Heritage Commission, which was created to curb the wholesale desecration of Indian burial sites and related material.

Under state law, whenever Native American remains are discovered, the local coroner must notify the commission, which then dispatches a Native American from a list of Most Likely Descendants who've certified their ancestral connection to the area where bones have been found. The commission has appointed some 350 MLDs throughout the state, including Andrew Galvan and about a half-dozen others in the Bay Area who claim Ohlone ancestry.

The problem is that the law gives MLDs little real power; they can't legally force anyone to comply with their recommendations. Absent any legal mandate requiring that landowners accept their suggestions, MLDs use moral persuasion, or, failing that, the threat of adverse publicity to convince those who encounter Indian bones to handle them respectfully, those familiar with the process say. Native American monitors who are not always MLDs, and who are often paid by the developer or property owner, are typically assigned to construction sites when remains turn up.

As someone with unique access to a recognized Indian cemetery, however, Andrew Galvan is no ordinary MLD.

Observers say it is no coincidence that the Ohlone Cemetery has become a repository of Indian remains in the Bay Area, from the archaeologically rich valley enveloping present-day San Jose to the Oakland Hills and downtown San Francisco, where a centuries-old Native American village was unearthed in the late 1980s during construction of Moscone Center.

But the means by which many of those reburials have been arranged have raised eyebrows within archaeological circles, and especially among the Muwekma Ohlone. Andrew Galvan is co-owner of Archaeor Archaeological Consultants, a full-service firm that leases offices on the campus of Ohlone College in Fremont (Philip Galvan was instrumental in campaigning for the name when the college opened in the 1960s). It occupies a two-story house that once was home to the college radio station.

Those familiar with the matter say that over the years Archaeor has provided services for many of the same clients on whose job sites Galvan has been assigned as the MLD. It collects fees from these clients to remove skeletal remains that often end up reburied at the nonprofit cemetery.

While there is nothing in the law to prevent this arrangement, critics say that it creates at least the appearance of a conflict of interest. "It's an example of how, when it comes to policing the way Indian remains are handled, nobody's minding the store," says Alan Leventhal, an anthropologist at San Jose State University and the ethnographer for the Muwekma Ohlone.

Archaeor's client list includes a who's who of large homebuilders, utility companies, and public entities, including Caltrans and the East Bay Regional Park District. According to the firm's Web site, it "is 50 percent minority (Native American Indian) owned through an in-house partnership with the Ohlone Indian Tribe, Inc."

However, Galvan insists that the company has "no connection" to the nonprofit that controls the cemetery. He called his Web site's description "a wording issue," saying that he — and not the nonprofit — owns a half-interest in Archaeor, along with archaeologist and business partner Rick Thompson.

Galvan says that Archaeor charges clients for "a variety of services relating to the handling of skeletal remains," such as cleaning and preparation for burial, as well as for archaeology coffins, but insists that the firm derives no profit from the cemetery. "We've never charged a nickel for anyone to be buried there," he says.

However, the distinction may be lost on some of his clients. Al Kaplan, who owns a property in the Contra Costa County town of Danville where several Indian skeletons were unearthed during the remodeling of a pizza restaurant in 2005, says that among the charges he incurred were those "to have the bones reburied down at an Indian cemetery in Fremont." Galvan served as the MLD on the project. Kaplan says he can't recall what Archaeor was paid: "I don't think I wrote the check. We handled it as just another contractor's expense."

But other former Archaeor clients who paid to have remains removed from their properties with the understanding that they would be reburied at the Ohlone Cemetery (and who spoke on condition of anonymity) were more specific.

"He's big on cleaning [the remains]," says the property manager for a landowner who contracted Archaeor's services. "That's $60 an hour, and it can take up to 12 hours per skeletal remain, so that's [$720] right there. If you have a lot of skeletal remains, it can really start to add up." He declined to say how much Archaeor charged his boss, saying that the client had signed a confidentiality agreement to keep the contents of Archaeor's price list private.

Galvan declined to discuss specifics of Archaeor's finances, including its client fees. But others familiar with the scope of the company's work conservatively speculate that it has generated many thousands of dollars in revenue since it was formed in 1996 for services predicated on the placement of Indian bones at the cemetery. Galvan's involvement as both an MLD and independent consultant pre-dates the creation of Archaeor, sources say.

"If you take even a very modest figure of a few hundred dollars [per skeletal remain] and start multiplying times 5,000 [as the number of human remains Galvan says he, and his father before him, have reinterred at the cemetery since the early '70s], it's not an inconsequential sum," says an archaeologist who has worked with Galvan, and who asked not to be identified.

Stanford campus archeologist Laura Jones says that in the mid-'90s, when Galvan was appointed the MLD after two Native American skeletons were unearthed at a campus construction site, Galvan proposed charging the university "several thousands of dollars" to reinter them at the Ohlone Cemetery. The university rejected the proposal, and the bones were ultimately reburied at an undisclosed site on the campus, she says.

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Ron Russell

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