Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe finally reclaims ancestral remains

The remains of the Spirit Cave Man and other tribal ancestors were found in an area near the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada. Photo by Charles Cornell

A Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act controversy has officially come to an end thanks to the Obama administration.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Wednesday announced the transfer of ancestral remains in Nevada to the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe. The remains include a 10,000-year-old individual -- also known as Spirit Cave Man -- who was the subject of a long-running dispute.

“Returning the remains and objects found at Spirit Cave to the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe is an example of the administration’s commitment to work with Native American governments in coming together to resolve issues,” Jewell said in a press release. “I am pleased that these remains are being returned to where they rightfully belong.”

The tribe always claimed Spirit Cave Man and the other remains as ancestors and a DNA analysis confirmed they were Native. They had been uncovered in 1940 on federal land not far from the present-day reservation.

But the Bureau of Land Management resisted turning over the remains for two decades. That led the tribe to file a lawsuit in which a federal judge at one point said officials "passed the issue up the chain of command" without ever providing a direct answer to the Paiute-Shoshone people.

The situation began to change when the Interior Department in 2010 finalized long-awaited regulations regarding so-called "culturally unidentifiable" Native remains. A notice published in the Federal Register a month ago cited the new rule as the basis for initiating repatriation to the tribe.

“The BLM has consulted extensively with the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe in recent years regarding the Spirit Cave Assemblage,” Neil Kornze, the director of the agency, said in the press release. “We are pleased that we have found resolution for transfer of the remains and objects and are able to hand over these important cultural items to the tribe.”

According to the department, the BLM transferred control of the remains and associated burial items to the tribe on November 18.

Federal Register Notice:
Notice of Inventory Completion: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Nevada State Office, Reno, NV (October 18, 2016)

From the Indianz.Com Archive
Judge faults BLM for decision on ancient remains (September 25, 2006)
Nev. tribe wants ancient remains 'to come home' (February 14, 2003)
Norton treads uncharted waters over remains (April 22, 2002)

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