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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
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
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
"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
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."
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