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Native gravesite unearthed during school construction

Posted: June 23, 2012 - 11:07pm
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Employees of ASRC McGraw Constructors and Alaskan Memorial Park Mortuary dig through an area Friday where a gravesite was uncovered Thursday during remodeling work in the front of the Gastineau Elementary Community School.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Employees of ASRC McGraw Constructors and Alaskan Memorial Park Mortuary dig through an area Friday where a gravesite was uncovered Thursday during remodeling work in the front of the Gastineau Elementary Community School.

Construction work outside Gastineau Community School in Douglas ground to a halt Thursday when workers digging in front of the building came across a marked grave buried below layers of dirt, City and Borough of Juneau officials said Friday.

The grave of Sam Goldstein, a Chilkat man from Klukwan who died in 1927, was apparently missed when crews relocated several old burial sites during construction in the 1960s, said Rorie Watt, director of the Juneau Engineering Department. It was uncovered, with headstone intact, at about 3 p.m. Thursday by workers digging footings for a concrete staircase to the entryway of the school, he said.

“We had not at all expected to find anything there,” said Watt.

After workers for Glacier State Contractors — subcontractors of ASRC McGraw, the general contractor in charge of the major renovation project at Gastineau — found the gravesite, Watt said construction outside the school stopped.

“What we did was we researched and realized it was a man of Native origin, and we had a brief ceremony with some people from Sealaska and some people from the region where the man was from,” Watt said.

Rosita Worl, president of Sealaska Heritage Institute, said she is glad that Watt contacted Sealaska.

“I think it’s really wonderful that they made the outreach to the Native community, so I appreciated that,” said Worl, who attended the ceremony along with other Native dignitaries, including clan leaders David Katzeek and Clarence Jackson.

The Juneau School District, Juneau Police Department and Alaska Mortuary were also alerted to the grave’s discovery, Watt said.

JSD spokeswoman Kristin Bartlett said the district is following the Engineering Department’s lead on the matter.

“At this point, I don’t have enough details about the information to comment,” Bartlett added.

Watt said construction is going on inside the school, though it remains on hold at and around the spot where the grave was found. He said on Friday he hopes to get underway there by Saturday.

“We’re trying to sort of quietly secure it and respectfully remove all the remains,” said Watt.

Although City Manager Kim Kiefer raised the specter of additional graves possibly being buried in the construction area, Watt said he thinks it is unlikely workers will find more.

“The contractors excavated pretty much the entire site, and they were almost done when they ran into this,” Watt said. “When we go back to work, basically what the direction is, is ‘dig slowly,’ and with someone else watching.”

Worl said she is worried about the possibility of additional gravesites around Gastineau that could be disrupted.

“We’re concerned about that,” Worl said. “We’re … hopeful that (the city) will be mindful of the cultural sensitivities that need to be followed.”

Watt said Goldstein’s remains will be reinterred at Evergreen Cemetery in Juneau — with, Worl added, Tlingit approval.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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