Work has been halted at a residential construction site near the Asotin County Fairgrounds in southeast Washington, where ancestral human remains recently were discovered.
Kayeloni Scott, spokeswoman for the Nez Perce Tribe, said the tribe was notified Friday 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 said Wednesday. “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. Surveying and monitoring of the site will continue, to help us learn more about the findings.”
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. A Washington state archaeologist also was in Asotin earlier this week 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. “I learned so much through this process about the Native American people’s history. For instance, graves were placed on hillsides so their loved ones could be reintroduced to the water system and nature over time.”
Segroves, who purchased 1.28 acres for $30,000 from the city almost four years ago, had hoped to build his dream house at the top of Filmore Street across from the fairgrounds. After encountering numerous obstacles and jumping through bureaucratic hoops, the project was back on track when the ancestral gravesite was found.
“I honestly have no idea what’s going to happen now,” Segroves said. “It’s been one problem after another. At this point, I don’t think I’ll ever get to build there for two reasons. No. 1, having an archaeologist on site at all times during construction is cost-prohibitive. No. 2, and even more important, I have a moral compass. And morally, I think it’s wrong to desecrate that property further, knowing there’s an Indian burial site under there.”
Nez Perce tribal members are keeping the property secure, Segroves said.
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.