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Experts closer to study of skeleton

Posted by Mikola 18 to NDN AIM

This story was published 1/9/03

By Mike Lee

Herald staff writer

Scientists who want to study Kennewick Man took another big step toward their goal Wednesday when a federal judge denied a motion to put their investigations on hold.

"The public has an interest in the studies proceeding without further delay," said U.S. Magistrate Judge John Jelderks in Portland.

Another detailed examination of the ancient remains still is at least months off - unless the Ninth Circuit Court steps in to stop it until the court has a chance to address all the legal issues involved in the high-profile case.

Regardless, Jelderks' decision was welcome at the Portland law offices of Alan Schneider, who has handled the case for scientists since shortly after the bones were found in Columbia Park in 1996.

"This is not as big of a high as the one in August, but it certainly is very satisfying," Schneider said.

Scientists prevailed over federal and tribal objections to their study in August, only to face an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court on legal questions such as what kind of remains are protected under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990.

The appeal, however, didn't necessarily prevent the scientists from examining what is one of the oldest and most complete skeletons in the country.

And Jelderks appears committed to moving a study ahead. "I recognize that the tests and examinations that the plaintiff scientists plan to carry out constitute some injury to the tribal claimants, who oppose any further study on religious and spiritual grounds," he said Wednesday.

"However, because the plaintiff scientists do not intend to carry out extensive invasive studies that will substantially alter the physical condition of the remains, the remains would be available for burial without substantial change from their current condition if the tribal claimants were to prevail on appeal," Jelderks said.

Scientists have a litany of tests in mind that would employ approximately 24 scientists from 14 universities, institutions and consulting companies to reconsider central questions, such as Kennewick Man's health history, whether he was buried by humans and the accuracy of previous radiocarbon dating.

Jelderks said denying study pending appeal would cause "significant injury" to the scientists, some of whom are near the end of their careers. More delays, Jelderks said, "could prevent them from ever completing their research and publishing the results of their work."

Given those factors, the "balance of harms does not tip in the tribal claimants' favor," said the judge.

Tribes, however, will continue pressing for protection of the skeleton at the Ninth Circuit, said a lawyer for the Colville Confederated Tribes.

"We are disappointed but not surprised (by Jelderks' decision)," said Thomas P. Schlosser, a Seattle lawyer for the Colvilles. "The district court usually denies a motion for a stay pending appeal, but the rules require you to ask them first, so that's what we did."

Schlosser called Jelderks "completely insensitive" to how study would harm American Indians, who consider Kennewick Man an ancestor.

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