The body of a 21-year-old Coeur d’Alene Tribe member who was killed in a car crash Friday was returned to her family after a successful petitioning to have it released by the Kootenai County coroner.
Olivia Pakootas, who was a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, was killed on Idaho State Highway 58 when she crashed and flipped her vehicle. Heather Keen, a representative for the tribe, said the family contacted Kootenai County Coroner Warren Keene to request Pakootas’ body be returned without an autopsy for religious and cultural reasons.
Keene said an autopsy would have been an unnecessary violation of the tribe’s sovereignty, since police are not investigating Pakootas’ death as a criminal act and the crash happened on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation.
On Monday, a judge granted a temporary restraining order and allowed Pakootas’ family to take her body back to Tekoa, Washington.
An attorney for Kootenai County, Patrick Braden, said lawyers from both parties met Tuesday and agreed to release Pakootas’ body so her family could begin funeral preparations. He said this was the first religious objection Keene had faced since his election as coroner. He added that the investigation into Pakootas’ death was now closed, but the office was looking for ways to better cooperate with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe in the future.
A representative from the Kootenai County Coroner’s office said Keene would not comment beyond a news release the office sent out Tuesday stating Keene and his staff were complying “as much as humanly possible” with the family’s requests.
Pakootas’ mother, Nicky James, wrote in an email statement Monday that her daughter, who helped bring the Tekoa-Oakesdale basketball game to a WIAA 1B title game and competed in track and field for Spokane Community College, broke barriers for Native American children and tribe members.
“Even in her death,” James wrote, “she is making her mark to ensure that no other Coeur d’Alene tribal family has to fight the state to take care of our people and send them on their final journey.”
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