Sacred burial site recovery to be monitored

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - A federal judge appointed a special master to oversee the return of fill dirt containing remains to the original site where a burial mound was uncovered more than a year ago.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol appointed Magistrate Marshal Young of Rapid City to monitor the continued construction of a recreation area along the Missouri River on the Yankton Reservation.

Yankton Tribal members stopped construction crews that were in the process of returning fill dirt know to contain human remains to the original burial site. According to members, the construction crew acted is a disrespectful manner and moved too fast for tribal elders and spiritual leaders to properly rebury the remains. The dirt was being returned on Judge Pierson's order.

The case then ended up back in court with evidentiary hearings and two people cited for contempt of court and where the special master was appointed. Judge Piersol has yet to deal with the contempt charges of Faith Spotted Eagle and Frank Sanchez, both Yankton Tribal members.

Senators Tim Johnson, D-S.D. and Tom Daschle, D-S.D. have been critical of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers management of the Missouri River and cultural aspects as they relate to American Indian cultural sites. Daschle at one point called for the elimination of the Corps altogether.

"Last year, the inadvertent discovery of Yankton Sioux Tribe remains at a state recreational site and the failure of the Corps to follow federal law, sparked weeks of anguish and hard feelings for the tribe. It's unfortunate that the aggrieved parties are forced to engage in costly litigation rather than be afforded the proper processes through federal law," Sen. Johnson said.

Both sides have guarded opinions about the special master appointment.

Attorney for the state of South Dakota John Guhin, owner of the recreation site, said he was confident the special master could address any complaints the tribe would have and at the same time was somewhat certain that further delays would not occur.

Faith Spotted Eagle, a member of the repatriation team said she was fearful that Piersol would select a special master that was not knowledgeable about the cultural significance of the burial site. "Then we would be back where we were before," she said.

"We are concerned that he may not respect the process and then back it up," Spotted Eagle said.

She said that the tribe had submitted 24 recommendations that the special master follow. Among them were requests that pipe ceremonies be held so that all parties would be required to tell the truth. Also that American Indian contractors be hired to return the dirt to its original location so it would be possible for the workers to show respect for the process.

They also requested a training session for the contractors so they would know how the uncovering of the human remains impacts the tribe and tribal members.

The tribe also wants the steps for repatriation identified through a consultation process and then followed. "There needs to be an agreement between the parties," Spotted Eagle said.

The tribe also wants roads closed to the public during the repatriation process. This may even mean shutting down the fifth most used recreation and camping area in the state down during the process as the main road cuts two locations where remains were found down the middle.

Members of the committee were reluctant to talk about the entire list of requests because of the legal problems involved with the entire process.

The case at North Point may not be over. The Yankton Tribe General Council is monitoring the process and at any point they want to reserve the right to stop any further development and also ask that the tribe be given management rights to the area where the burial site is located.

Members of the repatriation committee speaking individually want all construction stopped for fear that other burial sites will be disrupted.

In the meantime all new construction has stopped at the site.

"{The state} tried to shame us and claim what were doing was just a land grab," Spotted Eagle said.

An encampment to watch over the remains and pray for the spirits is still in place at the North Point site.