Native Graves Bill Could Protect Unearthed Remains

Nov 28, 2018

In Eastern Wyoming, fossil fuels are in abundance. While the potential revenue from the energy industry is enticing, Converse County Senator Brian Boner, in consultation with the Historic Preservation Offices of both the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribe, is proposing a bill that would encourage private landowners and state officials to be more careful where they dig.

Under a newly proposed bill when human bones are found while digging a new irrigation ditch, the county coroner must be called to investigate. They will determine if what was found is an archeological burial site. If so, the state archeologist would be brought in to evaluate if the remains are Native American. If it is determined the remains are Native American, the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Historical Tribal Preservation offices would be notified.

The bill includes handling the remains with respect and getting permission from the landowner to re-bury the remains where they were found.

Cheyenne Senator Affie Ellis presented the bill to Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribal leaders in Fort Washakie on November 13th.

Ellis said a story of lost items of an Eastern Shoshone girl in the 1960's sparked her interest in this bill.

"And some of those remains and funerary objects were lost or taken as curious people in the community may have tried to see the remains. I think that that case really illustrated to me the importance to acting quickly to secure the integrity and to protect funerary objects," she said.

Ellis said the bill has the potential to protect remains in any situation where the earth is disturbed.

"You know as energy development increases in Converse Country that was an area that was important to a lot of tribes. It's not just energy I'd say any construction or building a road or irrigation ditch. So, I think its application is much larger than just energy."

If the remains are found on state or privately-owned property, penalties for individuals who fail to notify the coroner's office would include up to six months in jail or a fine of $750.

While under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, if remains are found on federally owned land, the fine is $100,000, one year in jail for a first offense, plus it's a felony.

The Arapaho Historical Preservation Office would like the fine raised to match federal regulation.