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Bonnichsen et al. v. United States

357 F.3d 962 (2004)

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Bonnichsen et al. v. United States

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

357 F.3d 962 (2004)

Facts

Teenagers found ancient human remains on the bank of the Columbia River in Washington State. The remains were located on federal property managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) (defendant). Laboratory analysis determined that the remains were approximately 9,000 years old. The Smithsonian Institution arranged for the remains to be brought to its National Museum of Natural History for further study. Four Indian tribes opposed further scientific study and demanded the remains be returned for immediate burial based only on the tribes’ geographic proximities to the site of the remains. Citing the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (the repatriation act), the Corps took possession of the remains before they were delivered to the Smithsonian and ordered a halt to further DNA testing. A group comprising scientists, the Smithsonian, and others (scientists) (plaintiffs) objected to the decision of the Corps. The scientists brought an action in the district court for permission to study the remains. The Corps moved for summary judgment. The district court denied the motion because the Corps acted before it had all the evidence. The district court vacated the decision of the Corps to give the remains to the Indian tribes and remanded the case for further consideration. After remand, experts conducted further study on the remains. The remains were unlike any known present-day population of American Indians or any other ethnic group. The secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior found that the remains were Native American under the repatriation act, found that the remains were culturally affiliated with present-day tribes, and denied the scientists’ request to study the remains. The scientists filed an amended complaint in the district court. The district court vacated the secretary’s decisions, finding that the repatriation act did not apply and that the scientists should be able to study the remains under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. The Corps and the tribes appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Gould, J.)

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