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Public Statement following Court decision
August 30, 2002
Today, the Court has chosen to substitute its own judgment for that of
the experts employed by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of
the Interior. Congress entrusted agencies such as the Department of
Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers to implement the Native American
Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, not the courts. Experts within
those federal agencies determined that the remains were Native American
and that they were culturally affiliated to the five claimant tribes.
These decisions should have been upheld.
The Court's decision today removes any barriers that would prevent the
Plaintiff scientists from demanding access to all Native American human
remains, for their scientific needs, regardless of whether the remains
were 20 or 20,000 years old. Today's decision leads to a result entirely
contrary to the Congressional intent of the NAGPRA.
This treatment of Native American remains as scientific specimens
deprives native people of the basic right to properly bury or care for
these ancestors. By enacting the NAGPRA, Congress intended that Native
American ancestral human remains be treated the same as non-Indians
remains, with respect.
Although we are not a direct party to the suit, the Umatilla Tribe will
continue to support the Corps' determination and looks forward to an
appeal of this decision. We are confident that upon appeal, the court
will recognize that NAGPRA protects the remains of Native American people
from being treated solely as objects of scientific curiosity and
recognize that the living descendants of those ancestors retain the right
and responsibility to care for those remains.
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