Oak Harbor may build cemetery for unearthed remains

City-owned property may be transformed into a Native American cemetery someday.

Oak Harbor officials confirmed that they are working with the Swinomish and other tribes to figure out how best to handle ancestral remains that were unearthed during a construction project on Pioneer Way nearly two years ago.

Archeologists and tribal workers have been working for many months to sift through piles of dirt that were taken from the road project. The remains discovered in the piles will be placed in handmade cedar boxes and then reburied.

In addition, the piles of earth that contained the human remains will be re-interred along with the cedar boxes. Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley said he was told that it may be as much as 150 truck loads of soil.

“It’s an important issue for the tribes, so it’s an important issue for us,” City Administrator Larry Cort said. He said the city’s goal is to be as respectful of the tribes’ culture as possible.

Cort said no decisions have been made about how to conduct the reburial, but he said the city is looking at the possibility of creating a new cemetery. One of the ideas, he said, is to use city-owned property and then possibly transfer ownership to the Swinomish tribe.

Cort, however, cautioned that the city’s attorneys are investigating the laws regarding the handling of ancestral remains and the creation of cemeteries, as well as the possible transfer of city property; the details are still being ironed out.

“It’s a fairly complex issue,” he said.


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