ST. IGNATIUS — The tug of war between the Army Corps of Engineers and US Forest Service, and the CSKT Preservation Office over the tribal archeological artifacts stored at Salish Kootenai College continues, Preservation Office head Mike Durglo, Jr., told the Salish Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee Elders Council at its January meeting.
“The Army Corps of Engineers is moving ahead with its effort to regionalize storage of archeological artifacts in its possession,” Durglo said. There are 125 government storage facilities in the Northwest and the feds have plans to consolidate them into one of seven storage facilities nationally. The ACOE has informed Durglo that the SKC storage facility does not meet the federal standards required for archeological artifacts storage. But that is somewhat of a side point as they maintain they own them. “We have requested that the artifacts at SKC be turned over to us.”
More than 90 percent of the artifacts are connected to the Kootenai tribal people and were unearthed during the construction of Libby Dam and Lake Koocanusa in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The rest are Salish and Pend d’Oreille related.
When moved to a regional center the artifacts would be far and away from the lands of origin and the spirits of the people whose hands once held them and used them and those of today who understand the importance of connection to the Ancestors.
He said the artifacts fall under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). However, he said the ACOE feels otherwise.
Durglo had written letters to the USFS and Army COE requesting a meeting with them over the issue. The USFS had responded, heretofore the Army COE had not until recently with the news that they steadfastly hold that the artifacts belong to the federal government in perpetuity. “They say the artifacts are not burial related — they were scattered and not associated to a specific grave. Therefore, they do not full under NAGPRA. However, they are spiritually significant to the people or individuals here.”
In the past the ACOE told Preservation they would consider leaving them on the reservation if the CSKT had had a proper facility for storage. Durglo responded that Preservation had a place to store them until a proper facility can be constructed. They could remain at SKC or another such safe storage area for antiquities and artifacts. The end goal would be a central clearing house facility located in Pablo, and a Kootenai specific facility in Elmo, and a Salish, Pend d’Oreille facility in St. Ignatius.
Durglo said he would like to have a contracted certified curator on staff to help with the effort to hold onto the artifacts until a proper storage facility is built, and/or help find one to store the artifacts in until the issue is resolved.
He said he would also be seeking legal assistance as well as political help in changing NAGPRA policies to address what he views as inadequate in situations such as this.