Page last updated at 15:40 GMT, Monday, 22 June 2009 16:40 UK

US seeks to stop Geronimo lawsuit

Geronimo, pictured in 1887
Geronimo was the most famous of the Apache warriors

US officials are seeking the dismissal of a lawsuit brought against the government by descendants of Apache leader Geronimo to recover his remains.

The descendants want to rebury Geronimo, who was buried in Oklahoma in 1909, in his native land in New Mexico.

They are also seeking the return of body parts they say were stolen in 1918 or 1919 by a secret society at Yale University known as Skull and Bones.

But justice officials say the law cited by the plaintiffs is not applicable.

In February, 20 descendants of Geronimo filed a lawsuit against President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defence Robert Gates and Secretary of the Army Peter Geren in their capacity as federal officials.

Their lawsuit, which also named Yale University and the Skull and Bones Society as defendants, alleged violations of a law passed in 1990 to protect Native Americans' rights to the remains of their family members.

The lawsuit seeks the recovery of Geronimo's remains "from 100 years of imprisonment at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the Yale University campus at New Haven, Connecticut and wherever else they may be".

This refers to long-standing allegations that members of the Skull and Bones Society, including Prescott Bush, the grandfather of George W Bush, broke into Geronimo's tomb and stole his skull and other bones to keep in their clubhouse in New Haven.

Yale University has repeatedly said it does not have Geronimo's remains and does not speak for the Skull and Bones Society.

The US justice department has now filed a motion asking a federal judge to dismiss the case.

Officials contend that the lawsuit fails to identify any cause to waive the government's sovereign immunity from being sued under the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act.

They also argue that the law is not applicable as the plaintiffs do "not allege that there has been any inadvertent discovery or intentional excavation of Geronimo's human remains or associated funerary objects since the enactment of [the act] in 1990".

Geronimo, who was born in what is modern day New Mexico in 1829, was the most famous Apache warrior.

He and his exhausted band of fighters surrendered to US forces in 1886. He died at Fort Sill on 17 February 1909 and was buried there.

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