After Ishi's death, Kroeber went into psychoanalysis for two years before returning to his work. I believe he was doing some serious soul-searching about the ethics of his work. Even though he went on to become the first great California anthropologist, he never in his lifetime published another word about Ishi, and when he spoke of him it was “with feelings of deep loss” (Riffe and Roberts).
Well, not quite. Kroeber may have been appalled by Ishi's autopsy, but he wasn't that appalled. As Nancy Rockafellar's report concluded:
The documentary record clearly shows [appendix H] the brain was sent to the Smithsonian from the University of California by Alfred Kroeber in early 1917, for scientific purposes.
"The lesson here is not merely an indictment of anthropologists and physicians of the past, but a harsh reminder of the destructive power of hubris," reported Rockafellar. "All participants in academic life must recall the historical context of individuals like Pope, Kroeber, and Waterman--and remember that the source of their conviction that they were 'doing the right thing' was the scientific certainty of the day."
"This may be one of the most egregious cases of violating a Native American," Rockafellar last month told U.S. News and World Report. "He was a real friend to the white man. He spent virtually all his waking hours telling us about his culture and he was anxious to return to the land of the dead when he passed away."
A report by Rockafellar the following month set in motion a repatriation process mandated by the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act, which requires federally funded institutions to return Native American remains in their possession to the individual's lineal descendants or cultural affiliates. After an often frustrating year and a half, which included red tape delays and pressure from California legislators, the Smithsonian finally turned over the brain to California Indians.
In fairness to The Last of His Tribe, I'm not sure anyone knew the full story of Ishi's brain in 1992. But if the movie's creators didn't know, they sure guessed wrong about Kroeber's role in shipping the brain to a museum. Oops.
For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.