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At Spirit Eye Cave, an indigenous woman’s remains were found - and eventually sold

(Diana Nguyen / Marfa Public Radio)
The upper opening of Spirit Eye Cave, pictured in 2018.

A recent story in The New Yorker explores the decades-old tale of how a group of locals digging in a cave for Native American artifacts uncovered human remains, and the question of who should claim ownership when such discoveries are made.

On a ranch in the Big Bend back in the late 1960s, locals looking around a popular cave for Native American artifacts uncovered a human body — the remains of an indigenous woman.

They kept the body, and through the years it changed hands before it ultimately wound up being sold.

The story of that find in the Spirit Eye Cave is just one example of a much larger history in the U.S. of indigenous remains winding up in the hands of private citizens, often by perfectly legal means.

Indigenous activists have pushed back on this for decades and sought to have these remains returned to their ancestors.

Marfa-based writer Rachel Monroe recently wrote about all this in The New Yorker. Marfa Public Radio caught up with Monroe for more on the story.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.