Denver The remains of 350 unidentified Indians stored in the basement of the Colorado History Museum for the past century will be returned to 12 Indian tribes under an unusual agreement.
Instead of waiting for state museum officials to sort out the identities, the tribes are working together to return the remains to their proper homes, said Ute Mountain Ute Chairman Ernest House Sr.
"In the Indian world, once the remains are not turned back to the Earth where it came from, there is a soul that is still out there still wandering out on the Plains," he said Tuesday.
The remains, ranging from skeletons to bone fragments, represent bodies that were discovered during construction projects, erosion and farming since Colorado became a state in 1876, said Lt. Gov. Joe Rogers, who helped broker the agreement.
The 1990 Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act requires remains to be returned to tribes, but it imposes strict requirements on those listed as culturally unidentifiable to make sure they are returned to the proper tribe since tribal customs vary.
Museum officials have returned four sets of skeletal remains over the past 10 years to the Ute and Pawnee tribes.
They have several hundred more boxes of remains from Pueblo Indians who lived hundreds of years ago in southwest Colorado that will not be covered by the agreement. Those will remain in a special vault in the museum basement.
Other tribes signing the agreement included the Northern Utes, the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, the Comanche Tribe of Oklahoma, the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, the Kiowa of Oklahoma, the Northern Cheyenne, the Northern Ute, the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, the Oglala Sioux, the Rosebud Sioux, and the Three Affiliated Tribes of North Dakota, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara. All of the tribes passed through Colorado at one time or another.