Native American remains reburied in Black Hills 5-15-07

CUSTER, S.D. (AP) - The bones of at least four Native Americans that have been in the hands of museums and collectors for decades were buried Monday in the Black Hills National Forest.

The remains were re-interred under provisions of the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act at a spot chosen years ago by Lakota holy man Frank Fools Crow.

“We think they should no longer be moved around the country and exploited,” said Donovin Sprague, of First Nations Heritage Association.

The mission of First Nations Heritage is to promote educational and cultural events that promote American Indian interests. This is the first repatriation of Indian remains to the sacred Black Hills that his nonprofit organization has handled, but Sprague said there are grave sites throughout the area.

The bones, which Sprague originally believed belonged to one person, came into his possession a year ago. He worked with the South Dakota Archaeological Research Center and the U.S. Forest Service to get them scientifically identified and re-interred.

The archaeological center was able to identify the remains of three individuals: a girl aged 12 to 14 at the time of her death; a male 45 years or older; and the bones of someone whose age and gender is unknown. Besides the three documented remains, there were several other bones, teeth and fragments that could not be assigned and were buried together in a separate container.

On Monday, about 20 people gathered in a forest clearing west of Custer as Sprague sprinkled sage and played a wooden Lakota flute. The Rev. Robert Two Bulls, a retired Episcopal priest, prayed in Lakota from the Niobrara prayer book, a 1928 translation of the Episcopal Book of Common prayer.

The two Lakota men were joined by a half-dozen Forest Service staffers and a few tourists.

The burial site, chosen for its easy access for Lakota elders who pray there, also contains the re-interred remains of two other American Indians that were accidentally disturbed in the 1980s and '90s, said Dave McKee of the Black Hills National Forest.

One was unearthed in a road construction project and the other during a test excavation at an archaeological site.