Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Navajo Nation v. U.S. Department of the Interior,

ELR Citation: 46 ELR 20071
Nos. 13-15710, (9th Cir., 04/06/2016)

The Ninth Circuit reversed a lower court decision dismissing the Navajo Nation's lawsuit against the National Park Service (NPS) that seeks immediate return of human remains and associated funerary objects taken from its reservation. Between 1931 and 1990, NPS removed 303 sets of human remains and associated funerary objects from Canyon de Chelly National Monument, a sacred site on the Navajo Reservation. In the mid-1990s, NPS decided to inventory the remains and objects pursuant to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) with the ultimate goal of repatriating the remains and objects to culturally affiliated tribes. The Navajo Nation filed suit, seeking, inter alia, an injunction ending the inventory process and returning the remains and objects. The lower court dismissed the suit as barred by sovereign immunity, reasoning that NPS had not yet taken any final agency action as to its disposition of the remains and objects. But the Ninth Circuit reversed. NPS' decision to inventory the remains and objects was a final agency action within the meaning of the APA. In addition, by deciding to undertake NAGPRA’s inventory process, NPS conclusively decided that it, and not the Navajo Nation, had the present right to “possession and control” of the remains and objects. The lower court therefore had jurisdiction to consider the Navajo Nation’s claims, and so the case was remanded for further proceedings.