Basque officials pay homage to Idaho’s Basque pioneers

Basque government representatives in Boise this week for Jaialdi spent Thursday tending to potential business initiatives, visiting a Basque school and visiting Basque graves before taking in the sporting exhibition that is a highlight of the cultural festival.

Representatives of the Bizkaia provincial government led by Deputy General Unai Rementeria met in the morning with Idaho state Commerce Department officials to sign an agreement promoting international business collaboration and economic growth. Both sides pledged to help businesses seeking overseas opportunities in their respective regions, support each other’s economic development initiatives and share economic and foreign trade information from their respective markets.

The Bizkaian premier went to Morris Hill Cemetery to pray and pay homage at a monument that memorializes 64 early Basque settlers who lie in unmarked graves. At a subsequent ceremony, Basque autonomous region President Iñigo Urkullu, his wife and other government officials were led in remembrance and prayer by Antonio Egiguren, a Franciscan Basque pastor from St. John’s Cathedral in Boise.

The president announced a new project, “Artainak gogoan” or “Remembering the shepherds,” that will research the unmarked graves and attempt to locate the families of the deceased. The work continues efforts and research carried out by Liz Hardesty, a Boise resident of Basque lineage, who with volunteers earlier identified 120 unmarked Basque graves in the cemetery. Among them are the still-missing 64 — Basque shepherds who died alone here, their families unaware of their fates.

Hardesty noted that many of the deaths occurred during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19, when the cemetery was overrun with burials. The Basque president said the effort will allow families to come pay tribute. It will require matching their names to immigration records from Ellis Island in New York and “will be no easy task,” he said.

Urkullu also visited the Boise Ikastola, the Basque school at St. Paul’s Catholic Center, which the Basque government has supported since its inception in 1998.