Spirit Cave remains returned to Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe
This story was first published in the August 2017 edition of First Nation’s Focus.
FALLON, Nev. — At the Fox Peak Cinema on June 21, the Fallon Business Council honored and recognized members of the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe who worked hard for the return of the Spirit Cave remains for decades, knowing that the Spirit Cave belonged to our ancestors.
Each shared their experiences and the obstacles they faced associated with the remains being returned to the Tribe.
“Current and past Councils have fought hard to bring our ancestor home; it was a lengthy and costly process for the Tribe,” stated Chairman Len George. “The Council at the time went in search of support from organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians, Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada and all Tribes in Nevada, and we would like to thank these constituents for their continued support and everyone for their hard work in the repatriation of Spirit Cave.”
Below is a timeline of the Spirit Cave and recent developments leading up to its remains being returned to the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe:
1940: The Spirit Cave was discovered in the Stillwater Mountains, about 13 miles east of Fallon, by Archaeologists Georgia and Sydney Wheeler. They found remains of two people inside wrapped in tule matting. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management resisted the release of the remains, and during the interim, they were in storage at the Nevada State Museum where he remained for the next 77 years.
1990: The Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was enacted to preserve existing Native American burial sites and to return any remains to their appropriate tribes.
1994: The Nevada State Museum analyzed the remains for radiocarbon dating and determined it was older than any previously known North American remains. Results indicated it was approximately 9,400 years old.
1997: The Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe put in a NAGPRA claim to the Spirit Cave and artifacts found with him, although BLM stated the claim was invalid. BLM curated the Spirit Cave remains with the Nevada State Museum.
2006: The U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada ruled on a lawsuit by the Tribe and said that the BLM made an error in dismissing evidence without a full explanation. The court order remanded the matter back to the BLM for reconsideration of the evidence.
2015: Renowned geneticist and professor Eske Willersley, who collected bone and tooth samples from the remains with the permission of the Tribe, did DNA analysis indicating that the remains were similar to North and South American indigenous groups.
2016: On Nov. 22, the remains were repatriated to the tribe, meaning the Spirit Cave remains have been finally laid to rest.
2017: On June 21, Tribal Elder Ashley George; Cultural Coordinator Donna Cossette; Cultural Committee members Rochanne Downs and Alvin Moyle; and Tribal Attorney Brian Chestnut — in addition to Professor Eske Willersley — were honored with Pendleton blankets at the Fox Peak Cinema in Fallon for their hard work in repatriating the Spirit Cave remains.
With the Nevada Indian Commission’s offices located on the Stewart Indian School campus, Stacey Montooth is reminded every day of the culture and lands she is working to preserve and the welfare of her people she is striving to improve.