American Indian Remains to be Re-Buried - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

American Indian Remains to be Re-Buried

The remains of nearly 150 American Indians studied and stored at the University of Idaho and Washington State University are scheduled for a ritual reburial next month.

Besides the remains, personal possessions, including a Jefferson Peace Medal that might have been from the Lewis and Clark expedition, will be reburied.

The remains were unearthed in 1964 to make way for flooding behind Lower Monument Dam on the Snake River. They include members from the Palouse Tribe, made up of the Umatilla, Nez Perce, Yakama and Colville, and the Wanapum band.

"Many of the sacred human remains, grave sites and graveyards were dug up in the name of science," Armand Minthorn, a Umatilla Tribe board of trustees member and spokesman for the five tribes, told the Lewiston Tribune. "For us as Indian people, this is a violation of our religion, it's a violation of our traditional values, it's a violation of our customs to dig anything up once it's put in the ground."

The Palouse Tribe claimed the remains through the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The graves from which the remains were removed date from about 1850 to the early 1900s.

Roderick Sprague, a retired UI anthropologist, was the field director for the 1964 dig when he was working for WSU. He said that at the time of the dig, getting answers to scientific questions was put ahead of offending descendants of the deceased.

He said the remains from about 260 graves were removed, and that bones and artifacts too deteriorated for research and classroom use were reburied. About 6,000 personal possessions were removed and taken to WSU and UI.

Sprague left WSU for the UI shortly after the dig.

"We took the position that we weren't going to keep any more Indian burials," Sprague said. "It was 1967 when we really started asking questions."

Mark Warner, an archaeologist with UI, said Sprague was at the beginning of a trend that questioned grave excavations.

"There's been an unfortunate history of archaeologists digging up remains," Warner said. "Rick Sprague was way ahead of the curve in repatriating those remains."

Joe Saxon, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, said the remains scheduled to be reburied are the largest collection the corps has. He said the corps still has several smaller collections of remains removed during the last 50 years because of various projects.

"The corps isn't in active consultation regarding the remaining groups, but stands ready to assist when descendants come forward," Saxon said.

Details of the reburial of the remains, including the location, are not being disclosed, but Minthorn said officials from the corps and WSU might be invited to attend the ceremony.

Associated Press, 2006 - All Rights Reserved.