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Navajos, Park Service Spar Over Remains

Navajos, Park Service Spar Over Remains
June 11
10:48 2015

The Navajo Nation wants remains and other funerary items exhumed from Canyon de Chelly to be returned to the tribe immediately.

Not so fast, the National Park Service says.remainsSMALL

Both sides squared off before a three-judge panel Wednesday in the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

“They remain locked away in a federal facility in Tucson, in defiance of the nation’s wishes, to this day,” said Paul Spruhan, an assistant attorney general with the Navajo Department of Justice.

The NPS said it has not yet determined whether the 303 funerary items and remains have any cultural affiliation to other tribes.

U.S. Department of Justice attorney Mary Gabrielle Sprague told the court that the NPS has “right of custody.” The park service is following the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, but the Navajo tribe is worried that other tribes with connections to Canyon de Chelly could claim the items, she said.

The two sides disagreed over whether the tribe consented to have the items removed from tribal land near Chinle between 1931 and 1990. Tribal consent is required under terms of the 1868 treaty between the Navajo and the U.S.

Circuit Judge Sandra Ikuta said that the case’s “key question” is whether the government waived its sovereign immunity

Sprague evaded questions on whether the tribe has a “property right” to the ancestors, saying that issue “is not ripe for this court’s consideration.”
The tribe had sued the NPS in 2011 but U.S. District Judge Paul Rosenblatt ruled in 2013 that the tribe’s lawsuit was premature because the Park Service hadn’t identified a final action that would allow it to be sued.

The appellate court didn’t issue an immediate ruling.





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