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Native American bones will be turned over to tribes

BOISE – The University of Idaho and U.S. Forest Service’s Boise National Forest say they’ve identified human remains from Native Americans in their holdings that will be turned over to present-day tribes.

Documents made public earlier this week say the University of Idaho has portions of the left and right pelvis of a female, and the upper arm bone of a male removed from a small cave in southwestern Montana in 1929.

The Boise National Forest has partial remains of an adult of unknown gender removed from an extensively looted site in southwestern Idaho during an archaeological excavation in 1989.

Officials say tribes from Montana and Idaho have been contacted for consultation to start a federal legal process to return the bones spelled out in the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The talks are considered sensitive government-to-government communications.

Federal officials say the bones in the Forest Service inventory were found at a site in Elmore County. Stephaney Kerley, Boise National Forest spokeswoman, declined to provide a more specific location.

“We are very happy to follow the process in order to return these remains,” she said.

Documents say the remains were not identified until examined by an expert as part of an analysis completed last year. The expert said the remains are bones from a shoulder blade, ribs, vertebrae, and parts of a hand. Two teeth were also found.

On those bones, federal officials are consulting with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Reservation in eastern Idaho, and Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Reservation that’s in northern Nevada and southern Idaho.

The bones in the University of Idaho collection were removed from a small cave in Montana’s Park County by a private citizen in 1929. Federal officials say the unnamed private citizen in 1988 donated the remains and other objects to the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana.

The museum later that year transferred the human remains to the University of Idaho’s Alfred W. Bowers Laboratory of Anthropology.

Brad Gary, spokesman for the University of Idaho, said the school’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology had no comment about the bones.

Five tribes are being consulted on those bones. They are the Blackfeet Tribe of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation of Montana, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation in Montana, Fort Belknap Indian Community of the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana, Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho, and Northern Cheyenne Tribe of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana.

Emails sent and voice messages left by the Associated Press with some of the tribes weren’t immediately returned.

Melanie O’Brien of the National Park Service is the national program manager for the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. She said it’s not unusual to have multiple tribes interested in recovering ancestral remains.

“Generally, the tribes themselves come to some agreement,” she said.

The repatriation act passed in the early 1990s required institutions to examine their holdings for possible Native American remains so they could be turned over to tribes. O’Brien said that some 180,000 remains have been identified and that about 30 percent of those have been returned.


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