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Detail of Plateau Bag (NMNH catalog no. E204234)

Executive Summary

Inventory and Assessment of Human Remains from North Central Montana in the National Museum of Natural History

Region: Plains
Associated Cultures: Assiniboine, Blackfeet, Cree, Crow, Gros Ventre

In compliance with 20 U.S.C. Section 80q (Public Law 101-185), the National Museum of the American Indian Act, this report provides an inventory and assessment of the human remains in the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) from north-central Montana. Documentation of the remains was initiated in 1990, in response to a request from the Gros Ventre [Atsina] Treaty Committee for the return of culturally affiliated remains and ethnographic objects. To insure that all remains potentially affiliated with the Gros Ventre were identified, any remains from traditional Gros Ventre territory in north-central Montana and identified in museum records as Gros Ventre or Native American of unknown affiliation were documented as part of this request. Besides the Gros Ventre, other Native American communities potentially affected by the findings of this report are the Assiniboine, Blackfeet, Cree and Crow.

A total of thirteen sets of remains are documented in this report. One set of remains was recovered from an unknown location in Montana, and donated in 1869 to the United States National Museum (USNM--the antecedent to the National Museum of Natural History) by Mr. Dodge of the U.S. Agriculture Department. Three sets of remains were collected by U.S. Army surgeons from various locations in north-central Montana during the late nineteenth century. In all cases, the surgeons forwarded the skeletal remains to the Army Medical Museum, which in turn donated them to the USNM in 1898.

Seven sets of remains were collected in 1914 from near the Dog Creek, Fergus County, Montana, by Charles W. Gilmore, Assistant Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology, USNM. All seven sets of remains were found together in a rock crevice which had been covered with stones and was most likely an historic burial.

Two other sets of remains were donated to the USNM at the conclusion of forensic investigations. One set was recovered in 1961 from an accidently discovered historic burial near Malta, Montana. This set of remains was donated to the USNM in 1962 by Malta Sheriff William C. Dove. The other set of remains was found in 1977 near the Teton Creek north of Fort Benton, Montana, by a passing hunter. This skull was donated to the USNM in 1981 by the Fort Benton Police Department.

Based on the sum of available evidence, which includes museum and archival records, information on aboriginal land use areas, mortuary practices, skeletal biology and taphonomic context, it is recommended that one set of remains, recovered from near Fort Benton and identified by the collector as Gros Ventre, be offered for repatriation to the Gros Ventre.

The archival information for another set of remains identifies the remains as probably Gros Ventre. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it is recommended that this set of remains also be offered for repatriation to the Gros Ventre.

Seven sets of remains collected from near the Dog Creek, Fergus County, are likely to be either Gros Ventre or Crow on the basis of mortuary treatment, the collection locality of the remains, and the age of the interments. It is recommended that the NMNH consult with the Gros Ventre and the Crow as to the disposition of these remains, and that the NMNH retain these remains during the consultation process.

The specific cultural affiliation for the other four sets of remains evaluated in this report cannot be established on the basis of the available evidence. It was therefore recommended that these remains be retained by the Museum until additional information bearing on the question of cultural affiliation is forthcoming.

Repatriation Update
The skeletal remains of two individuals were repatriated to the Gros Ventre Nation (A A ni nen) of the Fort Belknap Indian Community in 1998. The skeletal remains of seven individuals from near Dog Creek were repatriation to the Gros Ventre Nation (A A ni nen) of the Fort Belknap Indian Community with the support of the Crow Tribe in 2002.

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