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Bones unearthed; reburial carries hefty price

Saturday, October 19, 2002


Seattle Times staff reporter

"On a finger of land many years ago, two adults and a child were laid to their final rest. But it was not to be a peaceful one.

Their West Seattle grave, believed to be an Indian burial site, has been disturbed not once but twice, most recently by mistake this month when a laborer digging beneath a retaining wall found human bones.

A routine home repair inadvertently became anything but, and raised a key question: When a homeowner discovers human remains, who pays the bill for removal?

Jan Deeds and her partner, Ron Mandt, have worked with at least four city and state agencies and three local tribes, and run up an estimated archaeology bill of about $10,000 in their attempt to do the right thing: Treat the bones with respect.

Yesterday, members of the Muckleshoot Tribe came to the house and laid the remains to rest with song and blessings in a handmade cedar box. It will be covered with cement and sealed, hopefully for good this time.

That's a far cry from the first time bones were disturbed by a former owner of the house. A 1952 article in The Seattle Times describes the homeowner as "digging up a little excitement" in his basement and finding an "assortment" of bones including three skulls that filled four boxes along with bits of leather, some beads and an old steamer trunk.

What happened to those sacred remains is unknown. The homeowner resumed work on his basement, apparently unfazed.

It was a different story with Deeds and Mandt. They stopped all work on the site Oct. 3 after getting a message any homeowner would dread on their answering machine, from their contractor: "We found some bones under here; we'd like you to come by and look," said Neal Journeay, the foreman of the crew.

Deeds called 911, and a week of waiting began. First came the coroner and the crime-scene tape. Then the state, which told her to contact "the appropriate tribes." Deeds went to a historical marker in her neighborhood and figured out she should contact the Suquamish, who called an archaeologist. It was a week before an archaeologist could begin sifting sand from the site.

Even after yesterday's burial, complications continued. Cecile Hansen, chairwoman of the Duwamish Tribe, claimed she was not notified of the ceremony, an outrage, she said.

While not recognized by the federal government, the Duwamish claim to be Seattle's native people.

Deed and Mandt said their dealings with the tribes have been smooth and mutually respectful. The state, both say, has been a different story.

"The Indians have been really cooperative. The state is not following their own law," Mandt said.

The state Indian Graves and Records Act states that Indian remains are to be respected. The law also says the state will pay for reburial and assist Indian tribes in recovering remains if no other public agency is responsible.

But in this couple's case, Allyson Brooks, state historic-preservation officer, said the state had no obligation to pay. "Unfortunately, they bear the cost of removing the remains," Brooks said.

The state pays only if legislative funds are appropriated and since the law's passage in 1985, they never have been.

Brooks said the state has an obligation only to pay a private citizen for reburial. The state will not pay a homeowner who decides to disturb a burial site. The homeowner must bear the cost of an archaeologist monitoring and sifting remains as they are removed, Brooks said.

Deed and Mandt said they had no choice but to disturb the site to repair the failing wall.

The state is sending a bad message, the couple says. "This is punishment," Deed said.

"What is to keep the other neighbors who know what happened here from not reporting an inadvertent find?" Mandt added. "The intent of the law is to encourage voluntary reporting."

Kimberly Craven, executive director of the Governor's Office of Indian Affairs, said the problem is the law is an unfunded mandate.

"It's a disincentive for people to report if they find out it is going to cost them a bunch of money. What are they going to do, just throw remains in the garbage? We could lose a wonderful archaeological site, and these remains need to be treated with respect.

"You wouldn't want your grandmother dug up and thrown away. We need to figure out how to pay for this."

For Deed and Mandt, the story is far from over. Apart from the bill that has yet to arrive, there is the matter of the house. A routine inspection of the foundation during the course of selling the house brought a crack in the wall, and then the bones, to light.

The buyers backed out and Deed a realtor wonders how disclosure of the grave will strike potential buyers of the $300,000 house, which sits vacant.

Deed lived in the house for years, her living room above the grave. Knowing the bones are appropriately laid to rest now, she says, "it feels good to me here. This house has been blessed.

"I just hope a future buyer feels that way."

Copyright 2002, The Seattle Times

Posted by Mikola 18 -- NDN AIM

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