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Tribe gets remains under new state law

Posted to TN Indian Affairs list

November 13, 2002

LINCOLN - The remains of about 20 ancient Indians will be turned over today to the Winnebago Tribe for reburial.

It is the first transfer of American Indian remains directly to a tribe since a new state law established the procedure last year, said Rob Bozell, the Nebraska State Historical Society's top archaeologist.

The remains include pieces as little as bone fragments to skulls and nearly complete skeletons. Some are the remains of people who lived in what is now Nebraska within the past 1,000 years. Others could be nearly 5,000 years old, based on artifacts found with the bones.

John Blackhawk, the Winnebago tribal chairman, said reburying Indian remains is an act of healing among tribes, regardless of which clan the people belonged.

"Until these remains and individuals can be laid to rest appropriately, it is our belief that they wander," he said. "So we're very proud and glad to be able to do that."

None of the remains - most of which were uncovered statewide by road construction crews, farmers or people walking along stream banks - could be identified by tribe, Bozell said. Archaeologists rely on artifacts such as pottery to help date and identify Indian remains.

Bozell said none of the remains to be turned over to the Winnebagos were found with pieces of pottery, but some had flint and burned rocks.

The remains were discovered during the past three or four years from Omaha to Fort Robinson State Park. Counties include Adams, Cass, Dakota, Dawes, Dixon, Douglas, Frontier, Furnas, Gage, Harlan, Hayes, Keya Paha, Platte, Red Willow, Sarpy and Washington. Some came from private collections.

Under a 1989 law, unidentified Indian remains were to be identified and returned to the ancestral tribe. If no tribal link could be made, the remains were to be returned to the county in which they were found for a county funeral.

A law passed in 2001 by the State Legislature requires that the State Historical Society give unclaimed and unidentified remains to one of the state's four tribes for reburial. The Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs is responsible for ensuring that remains are properly and appropriately buried by a tribe.

In addition to the Winnebagos, the state's tribes are the Omaha, Ponca and Santee Sioux.

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