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Navajo Nation v. United States Department of the Interior

819 F.3d 1084 (2016)

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Navajo Nation v. United States Department of the Interior

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

819 F.3d 1084 (2016)

Facts

Canyon de Chelly National Monument was a sacred site on the reservation of the Navajo Nation (plaintiff). Over many decades, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service (park service) (defendant) removed 303 sets of human remains and associated funerary objects from Canyon de Chelly without the consent of the Navajo Nation for all but six sets of remains. Sometime after the park service ceased removal of remains and associated objects in 1990, the park service decided to inventory such remains and objects to repatriate them to culturally affiliated tribes pursuant to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (the repatriation act). In 1996, the Navajo Nation wrote a letter to the park service, claiming ownership of the remains and objects from Canyon de Chelly and objecting to the inventory process that the park service had been conducting. Eventually, the Navajo Nation participated under protest. The process was contentious, and the park service withdrew its draft inventory in 2007. Then, the park service sought an opinion from the Department of the Interior’s Office of the Solicitor as to whether the park service was required to comply with the repatriation act. The solicitor issued an informal opinion via email that determined that the park service must continue to inventory the remains and objects because the repatriation act required it. Ultimately, the Navajo Nation sued the park service after some back-and-forth regarding the solicitor’s opinion on the repatriation act’s applicability. The Navajo Nation claimed violations of several treaties and federal statutes. The district court concluded that no final agency action under the Administrative Procedure Act had occurred, so it dismissed the suit as barred by sovereign immunity. The Navajo Nation appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Christen, J.)

Dissent (Ikuta, J.)

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