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Umatilla press release on judgement concerning Kennewick Man

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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