May 16, 2007

Lakota Nation: Hehakawin

The remains of Hehakawin, a young Lakota girl found more than 70 years, have finally been repatriated to the Sacred Black Hills.

Last Monday (14 May 2007), the remains of Hehakawin, a young Lakota girl found more than 70 years ago in a cave, were repatriated to the Sacred Black Hills and buried.

Below are extracts from an article written by Mary Garrigan and published by the Rapid City Journal:

CUSTER -- More than 70 years after her bones were unearthed in a cave near Argyle in the southern Black Hills, a funeral procession of sorts for a young American Indian girl named Hehakawin wound its way from the Forest Supervisor's office in Custer to her final resting place 15 miles west of town on Monday (14 May 2007).

That wasn't her name when she was alive at least 150 to 200 years ago, but it is the Lakota name that Donovin Sprague of First Nations Heritage Association gave to her.

It means Elk Woman, Sprague said, as he and the Rev. Robert Two Bulls, a retired Episcopal priest, laid her to rest in a sacred ceremony under a heavy gray sky on Monday.

Her remains, and those of at least three other unknown Indian people, were re-interred in the Black Hills National Forest under the provisions of the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act at a spot chosen years ago by Lakota holy man Frank Fools Crow.

"We think they should no longer be moved around the country and exploited," Sprague said of the bones, which have been out of the ground for many years, probably since they were discovered sometime in the 1930s. Hehakawin's skull had been on public exhibit at one time, and all of the bones had been sitting in museums and in other collections over the years.

The bones, which Sprague originally believed belonged to one person, came into his possession a year ago. He worked with the South Dakota Archaeological Research Center and the U.S. Forest Service to get them scientifically identified and re-interred.


"Donovin did two things right," Dave McKee of the Black Hills National Forest supervisor's office said. By involving law enforcement, the state was able to rule out the possibility that the bones were evidence in any crime. Using the archaeology lab to date and identify the bones places them in historical context. "They're in the right place now," McKee said.

First Nations Heritage's mission is to promote educational and cultural events that promote American Indian interests. This is the first repatriation of Indian remains to the sacred Black Hills that his non-profit organization has handled, but Sprague said there are grave sites throughout the area.

On Monday, about 20 people gathered in a forest clearing as Sprague sprinkled sage and played a wooden Lakota flute. Two Bulls, wearing a beaded elk-hide clerical stole decorated with eagle feathers, prayed in Lakota from the Niobrara prayer book, a 1928 translation of the Episcopal Book of Common prayer.

The two Lakota men, who share a common ancestor in Chief Hump, were joined by a half-dozen Forest Service staffers and a few lucky tourists.

Cliff Hull and Kat Reuss, on vacation from Kentucky, had stopped at the Forest Service building in Custer for maps and got an invitation to the ceremony instead.

"It's amazing, actually," said Reuss of the once-in-a-lifetime chance to attend such a ceremony.

Mo Tebbe is a California tourist who changed her travel itinerary when she heard about the chance to witness Monday's ceremony. "Native American history and spirituality have always interested me," she said. "I actually changed my travel plans to be here for this."

The burial site, chosen for its easy access for Lakota elders who pray there, also contains the re-interred remains of two other American Indians that were accidentally disturbed in the 1980s and '90s, McKee said. One was unearthed in a road construction project and the other during a test excavation at an archaeological site.