Spokane rejects Eastern Washington University archaeology bid 4-26-07

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - Fiercely criticized by the Spokane Indian Tribe, Eastern Washington University will no longer do archaeological work that is required on local construction projects, the City Council has decided.

Rather than approve a $250,000 contract with the school as recommended by city staff, the council instead voted 6-1 this week to hire Historical Research Associates Inc. of Missoula, Mont., the staff's No. 2 choice out of four groups that bid for the work.

The tribe also entered a bid, which was rated fourth. Tribal leaders said they had a good relationship with the Montana company and were happy with the change.

Scott Wheat, the tribe's lawyer, said officials in Archaeological and Historical Services, a research unit of the university's geography and anthropology department, improperly identified the location and critical details of an archaeological dig at People's Park last year, making the site vulnerable to treasure hunters.

A news report quoted Stan Gough, director of the school's program, as saying archaeologists found 60,000 artifacts which established that human habitation near the confluence of Latah Creek and the Spokane River dated back 8,000 years.

The archaeological work was required before the city could start building sewage overflow tanks at the site.

“You sit atop the remains of the tribe's ancestors. You sit amongst the tribe's most sacred sites,” Wheat told the council members. “The tribe's history, culture and resources significantly are impacted by actions taken by the caretaker you select.”

The lone no vote was cast by council member Robert W. “Bob” Apple, who said the school's work was highly regarded by the state and argued that contracts for future archaeological work should be awarded as needed, rather than guaranteeing one group or agency all of the work for the next two years.

Gough issued a written statement disputing many of the tribe's statements and said tribal leaders never responded to a written request to discuss the issue in January.

“AHS is very aware of the sensitive nature of the Spokane Tribe of Indians' cultural heritage and has worked to preserve that heritage,” Gough added.

Wheat said university personnel held a news conference on discoveries at People's Park, but Gough denied there had been a news conference. He said he talked to the media only after informing the tribal officials, an assertion disputed by the tribe.

Eastern Washington spokesman David J. Meany also said university officials were not advised when the council postponed a decision on the issue Monday to allow testimony by tribal members.

“We just didn't feel like we had any chance to even clarify things,” Meany said. “One of our other points of concern is that they would go with a private company out of state rather than staying with a local public university that the city has worked well with for years.”