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Undated American Indian skeleton to be repatriated

DENVER - The Colorado state archaeologist said July 17 that recently recovered Native remains, formerly kept in the closet of a private home in Pueblo County, will be administered under state and federal law, but the situation is ;'certainly not something that is tasteful in this day and age.''

Societal attitudes have undergone a beneficial change concerning American Indian remains and burial-related issues, indicated Susan Collins, of the Colorado Historical Society, who was asked about the disposition of a partial human skeleton turned over to law enforcement in southeastern Colorado.

The undated bones were said to have been found in 1981, a decade before the enactment of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, she said. Any determination about whether to press charges would be up to local law enforcement.

Robert Owens reportedly found finger bones, vertebrae, teeth and skull bones while looking for artifacts along the Huerfano River in eastern Pueblo County. A forensic anthropologist identified the bones as Native.

Ernest House Jr., Ute Mountain Ute and executive secretary of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, and a state archaeologist will collect the bones from the Pueblo County coroner's office and bring them to the Colorado Historical Society, where tribal identity will be pursued under NAGPRA and state laws.

House said he will contact the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribal nations, but will also be communicating with 47 other tribes that may have a cultural affiliation with the skeletal remains. The two Ute tribes are the only sovereign Native entities currently in the state, once considered home to many other tribes.

''No destructive analysis of the remains will be done. Hopefully, we'll get a chance to see the area they were extracted from,'' House said.

The state archaeologist may be able to determine the age of the skeleton from the area where it was found, he said.

Collins said her office will ''continue to work under existing laws to involve Native Americans to the extent we can. Our best efforts will be made to connect the remains to contemporary tribes.''

The official protocol for these and other remains is found under NAGPRA, a federal law enacted in 1990 that provides a legal process for Native human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and items of cultural patrimony to be returned to lineal descendants and culturally affiliated tribes, according to a press release of the CCIA.

A new procedure has been developed by the CCIA and Colorado Historical Society to rebury ''culturally unidentifiable'' Native remains that are discovered on non-federal public and private lands in Colorado.

Under that process, the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes could take responsibility for the remains and rebury them in as little as 100 days.

The new state process is awaiting final approval from the Interior Department secretary, Collins said, and existing NAGPRA and state laws will apply at this time.