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Judge: Navajo lawsuit over human remains premature

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 19, 2013 at 8:03 pm •  Published: February 19, 2013

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to have human remains exhumed from Canyon de Chelly on the Navajo reservation returned to the tribe.

The Navajo Nation contended in a 2011 lawsuit that hundreds of sets of human remains and associated funerary objects taken from the national monument near Chinle are tribal property. Despite demands for the remains, the National Park Service has unrightfully held them in a collection in Tucson, the lawsuit stated.

The Park Service argued the lawsuit was premature because the agency has not yet figured out whether other tribes have cultural affiliations to the items, a determination that is needed before the items can be repatriated.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Rosenblatt agreed in a ruling last week and dismissed the case. He said the federal government has not identified a final action that would allow it to be sued.

The National Park Service is charged with preserving the thousands of artifacts and ruins within Canyon de Chelly, but the land revered by Navajos as sacred remains tribally owned.

Park Service spokesman James Doyle on Tuesday declined to discuss the judge's ruling or the status of the review of the cultural items under a federal law known as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

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