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Tribes say they'll appeal ruling on Kennewick Man

Saturday, October 26, 2002

KENNEWICK, Wash. (AP) -- "Northwest Indians plan to appeal a federal court order allowing scientific study of a collection of 9,000-year-old bones known as Kennewick Man, one of the oldest and most complete skeletons found in the North America.

"We are committed to getting a successful resolution," said Rob Roy Smith, a lawyer for Idaho's Nez Perce Tribe.

The appeal deadline is Tuesday. It could at least delay for years the study of the bones, found in the shallows of the Columbia River in 1996.

Smith said the Nez Perce, Colville, Yakama and Umatilla tribes have received support from Indians across the country eager to defend the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990.

Smith called it "the strongest federal law that the tribes have to protect cultural resources, and we want to make sure that the tribal rights and tribal resources are fully protected."

U.S. Magistrate John Jelderks told tribal lawyers this week that they could appeal his decision on the bones to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals even though the tribes were not directly involved in the initial Kennewick Man lawsuit.

In August, Jelderks ruled the federal government erred in deciding to give the bones to the tribes because the remains had not been clearly linked to modern tribes as required by the federal law.

A group of eight prominent scientists had sued to stop the federal government from giving the bones to the tribes for traditional burial as an ancestor.

Jelderks criticized the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers -- which manages Columbia River navigation -- for their handling of the case. He said the federal government failed to consider scientific evidence and legal questions before then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt announced his decision to return the bones to the tribes.

After six years and wading through 20,000 pages of documents filed in the case, Jelderks could find nothing to support the government's decision.

The pivotal aspect of the case remains the government's determination that human remains from the time before Europeans arrived in North America are legally classified as Native American.

Tribal leaders support that view.

"If we can fight for the proper interpretation," Smith said, "then all of Indian country will benefit."

Earlier this month, scientists submitted their study plans to the federal government.

"The tribes are going to have a difficult time convincing the 9th Circuit that this trial court that saw the case for six full years is so wrong they should reverse his ruling," said Alan Schneider, a lawyer for the scientists.

He said the tribes are "running a major risk here of converting what otherwise would be a local decision into a precedent...that will become law for the entire 9th Circuit."

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

Posted by Mikola to NDN AIM

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