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Judge rules tribes can appeal ruling on ancient skeleton

Tuesday, October 22, 2002



PORTLAND, Ore. -- A federal judge has ruled that American Indian tribes can appeal his earlier order to let scientists study an ancient skeleton known as Kennewick Man, officials said Tuesday.

U.S. Magistrate John Jelderks in August had overturned a decision by former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to give the 9,000-year-old remains to Indian tribes for reburial.

Jelderks instead ordered the federal government to let scientists examine the skeleton discovered along the banks of the Columbia River in central Washington state in hopes of finding clues about how the first people arrived in America.

But on Monday, Jelderks held a status conference on the case and decided to allow several Indian tribes to intervene in the lawsuit.

"I can't say for certain at this point that we will appeal, but chances are pretty good," said Debra Croswell, spokeswoman for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in eastern Oregon.

Government attorneys have said they are considering an appeal but no decision had been reached by Tuesday, said Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman in Washington, D.C.

The government has until Oct. 29 to decide whether to appeal the original Jelderks order allowing scientific study of the skeleton, Miller said.

"We're certainly going to encourage the federal government to file an appeal as well," Croswell said.

Other Northwest tribes interested in joining an appeal are the Nez Perce, the Yakama, Colville and Wanapum, she said.

Alan Schneider, the attorney for the scientists who sued the Interior Department to allow them to study the bones, said that allowing the tribes to intervene could delay resolution of the lawsuit another two to four years.

"We had hoped we would be able to get in and study it this spring, before some of the plaintiffs retire," Schneider said. "But in all probability, this will mean the skeleton will remain unstudied for a number of years."

Efforts to reach some of the scientists involved in the lawsuit since it was filed shortly after the bones were discovered in 1996 were unsuccessful.

In his ruling in August, Jelderks harshly criticized the Interior Department and the Army Corps of Engineers -- which manages Columbia River navigation -- for the way they handled they case, saying the federal government failed to consider scientific evidence and legal questions before Babbitt announced his decision to return the bones to the tribes.

Jelderks said that, after six years and wading through 20,000 pages of documents filed in the case, he could find "nothing" to support the government decision.

The skeleton is called the "Ancient One" by Northwest tribes, who had argued the skeleton was an ancestor protected by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

The bones are being stored at the Burke Museum in Seattle pending the outcome of the case.

Posted by Ishgooda -- Native News Online

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