In 1976, the California State Government passed AB 4239, establishing the Native American Heritage Commission (NAHC) as the primary government agency responsible for identifying and cataloging Native American cultural resources. Up until this point, there had been little government participation in the protection of California's cultural resources. As such, one of the NAHC's primary duties, as stated in AB 4239, was to prevent irreparable damage to designated sacred sites, as well as to prevent interference with the expression of Native American religion in California.

Furthermore, the bill authorized the Commission to act in order to prevent damage to and insure Native American access to sacred sites. Moreover, the Commission could request that the court issue an injunction for the site, unless it found evidence that public interest and necessity required otherwise.

In addition, the bill authorized the commission to prepare an inventory of Native American sacred sites located on public lands and required the commission to review current administrative and statutory protections accorded to such sites.

In 1982, legislation was passed authorizing the Commission to identify a Most Likely Descendant (MLD) when Native American human remains were discovered any place other than a dedicated cemetery. MLDs were granted the legal authority to make recommendations regarding the treatment and disposition of the discovered remains. These recommendations, although they cannot halt work on the project site, give MLDs a means by which to ensure that the Native American human remains are treated in the appropriate manner.

Today, the NAHC provides protection to Native American human burials and skeletal remains from vandalism and inadvertent destruction. It also provides a legal means by which Native American descendents can make known their concerns regarding the need for sensitive treatment and disposition of Native American burials, skeletal remains, and items associated with Native American burials.

The following is a list of the present, original and former Executive Secretary's and Commissioners for the NAHC:

Current Executive Secretary

Cynthia Gomez

Current Members of the Commission

James Ramos, Chairperson

Laura Miranda, Vice Chairperson

Leslie Lohse

Marshal McKay

Jill Sherman

Julie Tumamait-Stenslie

Reginald Pagaling

Original Executive Secretary

Steve Rios

Original Members of the Commission

Jay Johnson, Chairperson

Nadine Naylor

William Franklin

Ed Castillo

Patricia Duro

Milton Marks

Mabel Mckay

Jane Penn

Talbert Wilson

Former Executive Secretaries

Larry Myers

William J. Pink

Loretta Allen

Gary Beck

Former Members of the Commission

Talbert Wilson

Richard Milanovich

Grant Smith

Joseph H. Stauss

Walt Lara

Wanda Lee Graves

Carol Bowen

Abby Abinanti

Blanche Shippentower

Dorothy Joseph

Vince Ibenez

William Callaway

John Sespe

George Brown

Anthony Risling

Doreen Bellas

Priscilla Hunter

Edward Albert Jr.

Fawn Morris

Clifford Trafzer

Katherine Saubel