Work has been halted at a residential construction site near the Asotin County Fairgrounds in Eastern Washington where ancestral human remains were discovered.
Kayeloni Scott, spokeswoman for the Nez Perce Tribe, said the tribe was notified last week when crews inadvertently found a Native American gravesite on a hillside overlooking the city.
"We are grateful for the individuals who ceased work immediately and contacted us," Scott told the Lewiston Morning Tribune. "We also appreciate the property owners for doing the right thing by working with us so we can properly handle our ancestors' remains to ensure there is no further disturbance."
Asotin Police Chief Monte Renzelman said bones were discovered during installation of sewer lines for a new house. The property is owned by Chris Segroves, who purchased it from the city of Asotin several years ago.
Roto-Rooter, the company doing the excavation work, notified authorities about the human remains and stopped all digging. The Asotin police chief, Asotin County sheriff and a detective visited the site, along with Nez Perce Tribal officials, who have remained at the scene since the discovery.
Earlier this week, a Washington state archaeologist also was in Asotin to view what has been found.
“Due to the age of the bones, as well as some of the artifacts found with them, it was determined it was most likely a Native American burial site,” Renzelman said.
Segroves, who purchased 1.28 acres for $30,000 from the city almost four years ago, had hoped to build a home.
“I honestly have no idea what’s going to happen now,” Segroves said. “I think it’s wrong to desecrate that property further, knowing there’s an Indian burial site under there.”
The 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act says descendants of those interred must be consulted and have a say in exactly how the graves are handled. Native American cultural items, such as human remains, funerary objects, and sacred objects, are supposed to be returned to the descendants.