SPOKANE, Wash. - A federal judge has denied the Yakama Nation's motion to intervene in the long-running legal battle over the 9,000-year-old Kennewick Man skeleton.
U.S. Magistrate John Jelderks ruled that the central Washington tribe waited too long after the lawsuit's filing 3 years ago to try to join the federal government as a defendant.
The Yakamas filed the motion to intervene in May, along with a counterclaim declaring they are ''culturally affiliated'' with the remains and entitled under federal law to custody of the skeleton ''for traditional reburial.''
Jelderks, who issued a written ruling last week from Portland, Ore., said he was concerned that adding the Yakamas ''would further delay a process that has been less than expeditious, and would be prejudicial to the parties' interest in efficient and timely resolution of this litigation.''
The federal government is the sole defendant. The Army Corps of Engineers had jurisdiction over the Columbia River shallows where the bones were found in July 1996, and planned to turn them over to Indian tribes when eight scientists sued that fall to conduct further studies.
The Yakamas are part of a coalition of five Northwest tribes that claimed the bones, asking that they be reburied with no more studies.
The Yakamas' motion to intervene made no reference to the other tribes' joint claim to the remains, which is based on a belief that Kennewick Man was an ancestor of modern-day tribes.
The federal government backed the Yakamas' motion to intervene, saying in a court filing that the tribe's participation ''would contribute to a full development of the underlying issues.''
Lawyers for the scientists neither opposed nor supported the motion, but expressed concerns that adding the Yakamas would delay resolution of the case.
In denying the motion, Jelderks questioned what purpose would be served by allowing the tribe to intervene.
The government, Jelderks said, has ''generally taken positions that are consistent with the interests of the various Native American tribes that have claimed custody of the remains, and have consistently advocated positions that are adverse to the plaintiffs.''
After the Yakamas filed the motion to intervene, Tim Weaver, a tribal attorney, said the tribe believed the government's defense of tribal rights was uncertain.
The 380 bones and fragments comprise one of the oldest and most complete skeletons found in North America. Radiocarbon-dating of the bones place their age at between 9,320 and 9,510 years old.
Jelderks has given the Interior Department until late September to finish DNA tests on the remains and tell the scientists who sued whether they will be given permission to conduct their own studies.
The three labs assigned to conduct the DNA tests last week reported that were having trouble getting the results they need because of contamination of the ancient bone samples.