A dispute over Native American artifacts found during the rebuilding of levees in Sutter and Butte counties threaten to delay completion of the project.
The Sutter/Butte Flood Control Agency says local tribes and the state's Native American Heritage Commission has asked that the artifacts be returned to the United Auburn Indian Community. However, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says they are obligated to follow federal laws, which call for artifacts to be studied and analyzed since the levee repair is a federal project.
The flood agency says it would — under different circumstances — hand over the artifacts to the tribe since it recognizes the artifacts are a sensitive issue with Native Americans.
“It would be in our interest to return these materials to the tribes, honor and respect these materials," said Mike Inamine, Executive Director of the flood agency.
The Native American Heritage Commission has said it can go the the state attorney general and have the project shut down for violating state law. But the Army Corps says it has no choice but to adhere to strict federal guidelines governing cultural artifacts.
The agency said federal officials told them they have the power to revoke its construction permit and shut down the project.
"We're between a rock and a hard place," said Inamine.
All sides have been engaged in talks to work out a compromise so the project, which protects 95,000 people and $7 billion in property, can be finished on schedule. The Commission has scheduled a public hearing on the matter in ten days and has not indicated how it might respond to the Corps ruling.
The Corps says they will eventually return the artifacts, and that those found during the project aren't human remains or anything used in any burial activity.