Skull found in 1979 laid to rest as ‘Unknown Blackfoot Warrior’

A human skull found in southern Alberta in 1979 has been returned to the Kainai Nation and buried as an unknown Blackfoot warrior. 

RCMP say the skull was found in the Old Man River west of Lethbridge and was turned over to police, who passed it on to the University of Alberta for analysis. 

It was determined the skull belonged to a male, approximately 60 years or older, and was « determined to be prehistoric, therefore Indigenous in origin, » RCMP said in a news release on Monday.

Sgt. Bryan Mucha with the Fort Macleod detachment said the skull was found by a service member who was swimming in the river in 1979. 

« Once the study was completed … the skull was returned to the finder, » he said. 

« Now, I don’t know why that happened, because I don’t think that would happen now. But in 1979, that might have been a normal course. »

Mucha said that person held on to it and then decided they did not need it and returned it to the detachment.

Returning the skull

« In March 2021, Fort Macleod detachment representatives engaged in discussions with members of the Blackfoot Nations to determine the best course to ensure a respectful and proper reburial of the skull, » RCMP said in the release.

« Kainai Spiritual Elder Joe Eagle Tail Feathers was consulted along with other spiritual Elders and Sundancers, and a traditional burial ceremony was held on June 26, 2021, on the Blood Nation. »

Mucha said the analysis conducted by the university had determined the skull had been fractured at some point prior to the man dying.

« So the spiritual elders felt that it was possible, or probable, that that person may have been a Blackfoot warrior and had maybe sustained an injury during his lifetime, prior to his passing, » he said. 

The RCMP release said the ceremony included wrapping the skull in a traditional blanket, followed by a smudging ceremony and interment. 

« Songs and prayers were sung for this ancestor of the Blackfoot People as he was buried in a small grave near where the Old Man River and Belly River merge, » reads the release. 

« The grave is marked with a bleached white stone indicating ‘Unknown Blackfoot Warrior.' »