UPDATED OCTOBER 4, 2:45 P.M: New information added from the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde.
Remains and funerary items found in 1952 near the Little Applegate River by miner O.N. Snavely will be returned to the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians.
The items, which included 10 teeth from at least two individuals, were given to the Southern Oregon Historical Society (SOHS) by Snavely that same year. Now, they are being returned under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
Archaeologist Ted Goebel, an assistant professor of anthropology at Southern Oregon University, determined that the items were Native American but were not affiliated to any modern-day tribe. SOHS decided it would give the items to Grand Ronde, in Grand Ronde, Oregon because they were found on land once occupied by their tribal ancestors. The items were due to be returned September 24 if no other tribe laid claims to the items, but Siletz stepped up and did so just before the date passed.
Who the items belong to won’t be a problem as far as getting them returned to the ground where they belong, according to Eirik Thorsgard, tribal historic preservation officer and member of the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde. He explained to Indian Country Today Media Network that Siletz and Grande Ronde will work together to do the right thing.
“The communites of Grand Ronde and Siltez are very interrrelated and that’s why we get along so well,” he said. “The history between our communites is very complex, anyone who tries to boil it down to one or two sentences does us an injustice… this is just an opportunity to work with our family enrolled in a different community.”
Thorsgard wasn’t sure how long the reburial process would take but said the two tribes would meet to figure out where the remains and items needed to be reburied and to negotiate with the current landowners. “People were buried where they were buried for a reason,” he said, noting how both tribes would prefer the items go back to where they came from.
According to the Mail Tribune, Snavely found the items about two miles above the Little Applegate River’s confluence with the Apple River in Buncom, which is about 260 miles south of Grand Ronde. In 1856, after the end of the Rogue River War, 2,000 western Oregon Indians were removed from their homelands and placed at the Grand Ronde Reservation.
“Now we find ourselves at Grand Ronde with 2,000 Native people, all from different parts of western Oregon, many speaking many languages…so they cannot communicate together,” says June Olson, cultural resources manager from 1996 to 2005 for the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, in a 2002 video. “Their cultures were often very different as were the issues between them and they were all confined on a very small reservation.”
Along with the teeth, 387 other items were returned to the tribes, mostly consisting of shells and beads, according to the notice in the Federal Register, published August 24.
The notice also stated that the items were, “reasonably believed to have been placed with or near individual human remains at the time of death or later as part of the death rite or ceremony.”