Native Americans Threaten Lawsuit Over Levee Artifacts

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SACRAMENTO --

The state's Native American Heritage Commission voted today to give the Army Corps of Engineers another several weeks to negotiate a settlement with local tribes over the handling of artifacts found during the West Feather River Levee project.

The Sutter/Butte Flood Control District has collected the artifacts which tribes insist include human remains, something disputed by the Army Corps which issues permits for levee repairs.

The Corps says federal law requires them to retain non-burial items for study while state law requires items to be turned over the tribes with ties to the area immediately. The levee repairs are on state land.

The flood district was caught in a Catch 22. The Corps threatened to pull its permit if it didn't turn over items to it's team of archeologists while the Commission threatened to take them to court for violating state law.

The district has been trying to iron out a compromise.

"I mean it would just be an unnecessary use of time and money," said district general manager Mike Inamine.

Members of the Commission were frustrated with the Corps of Engineers stance.

"We're here in 2015 and it's shameful and disrespectful that we're treat as science," said commissioner Julie Tumamait-Stenslie.

The Corps says non human remains are being kept and that the federal law is clear regarding preserving historical items found during construction.

"It's really about understanding the information that's been foudn before it's lost to us," said Corps planning spokesperson Alicia Kirchner.

She said artifacts would be returned in a matter of months.

But members of the United Auburn Indian Community says bones and cremated remains in the form of soil and ash were being kept as well as what's called "burial goods" that are an important part of tribal burial traditions were being retained.

"The United Auburn Indian Community's cultural heritage is about to be wiped out," said tribal archeologist Marcos Guerro.

The Commission feels it has a good chance to halt construction based on state law if progress in talks isn't made by April 6.