Indian remains found on base

A prehistoric human bone discovered last month interred in a bluff on Whidbey Island Naval Air Station is believed to be of Swinomish Indian descent.

The remains of a single person were inadvertently discovered in October during a visual survey of an archaeological site when natural erosion exposed human bones at Maylor Point on the Seaplane Base.

After consulting with the Island County Coroner, who determined that the remains were prehistoric in nature, the Swinomish Tribal Community was also contacted, as they were deemed by the Navy to be the tribe with the closest cultural affiliation to the remains.

Notice was recently given by the Navy under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to return the remains to the Swinomish. The Navy underwent a major repatriation after the act was passed in 1990, said John Phillips of the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station Environmental Affairs Department.

“We now deal with them on a case-by-case basis,” Phillips said. “A bone has been found. It’s still in the site and has not been removed.”

About 3 inches of a single bone is exposed in the coastal bluff, and although the bluff is currently stable, it is subject to wave action in storm events which could naturally excavate the remains.

Other tribes or individuals have 30 days from Nov. 24, the date of notice, to file a claim for the remains.

“We’re not 100 percent sure what the Swinomish want to do with the remains since it is still interred in the site,” Phillips said, adding that he suspects the tribe will request the remains be buried further inland where they will be protected from erosion. The tribe may also opt to leave the remains interred or bring in resources to the reservation.

“Right now it’s part of the site as far as we’re concerned,” he added.

Excavations performed by a Seattle community college around the site in the 1980s determined that the area had been used as a tribal burial ground.

“We know that there have been human burials at that site,” Phillips said. “It wasn’t a surprise to find a bone.”

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