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Thursday, February 05, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Scientists can study Kennewick remains, U.S. appeals court rules

By Joseph B. Frazier
The Associated Press

This is a model of what Kennewick Man might have looked like. The bones are at University of Washington's Burke Museum.
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PORTLAND — Scientists can study the 9,300-year-old remains of the Kennewick Man, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a decision in August by U.S. Magistrate Judge John Jelderks in Portland that the remains can be studied.

The Nez Perce, Umatilla, Colville and Yakama wanted the bones, found on the north bank of the Columbia River in 1996 by teenagers, to be turned over to them for burial.

The three-judge panel found that the remains do not fall under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and can be studied under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.

The decision was written by Judge Ronald Gould.

John Wright, administrator of the grave-repatriation act for the National Parks Service in Washington, D.C., said legal staff would review the ruling and decide what to do next.

Any possible appeal, he said, "depends on their recommendations after their review. They will determine what our options are."

The appeals panel remanded the case to the lower court.

The bones are housed at the Burke Museum at the University of Washington.
The Army Corps of Engineers initially agreed with the tribes, seized the bones before they could be transported to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and ordered a halt to DNA testing.

Scientists seeking to study the bones went to court to get access, but eventually the decision was made by then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who ordered the bones returned to the tribes in September 2000.

But the appeals court wrote that the repatriation law "unambiguously requires that human remains bear some relationship to a presently existing tribe or people, or culture to be considered Native American."

Rob Roy Smith, a Seattle attorney in the firm that represented the Colville tribe in the appeal, called yesterday's decision "a great injustice" and said the four tribes will have to decide whether to seek a rehearing or turn to Congress.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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