Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Challenges. Discussion »
WILKES-BARRO, PENNSYLVANIA - US District Judge A. Richard Caputo, Middle District of Pennsylvania has ruled that a lawsuit involving the two remaining sons of Jim Thorpe and the Sac & Fox Tribe of Oklahoma could move forward under NAGPRA, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania
Jim Thorpe, Sac & Fox, who has been called the "world's greatest athlete", is buried in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. William and Richard, joined with the Sac & Fox Tribe, are seeking to have his remains reburied on the reservation in Oklahoma.
Even though, Jim Thorpe was not known to ever visit what is now the small town named for him in Pennsylvania, he was buried there with permission of the late athlete's third wife, Pasty Thorpe.
William remembers vividly the circumstances by which he and his brothers lost control of Jim Thorpe's casket. He tells the story of how after his father died in California in 1953, his body was brought back to his home state Oklahoma for burial. Jim Thorpe was to be buried near where he grew up near Shawnee.
The funeral events were going well. His father was given a Catholic funeral and then turned over to American Indian traditionalists who were performing a burial ceremony when Pasty Thorpe - a non-Native - showed up during dinner hour with police officers who had a court order to turn the casket over to them. Even though they protested, they had little recourse then, and watched in disbelief and hurt as their father's casket was taken away.
After gaining the legal control of the body, Pasty Thorpe then literally "shopped" her husband's body to various towns and cities in Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, to be buried. At the time, she was allegedly looking for a town that would agree to memorialize her deceased husband.
During 1954, she found two towns that were merging: Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania that were willing to name the newly created town, Jim Thorpe and build a monument in his honor. She allowed her deceased husband to be buried there. The town has attempted to build a legacy around the great athletes name ever since.
In June 2010, John Thorpe, now deceased, originally filed a federal lawsuit to have his father's remains back to Oklahoma for a proper burial. The basis of his lawsuit was the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 that allows American Indian descendants to determine and have control over their ancestral human remains.
In early February of this year, Federal District Judge A. Richard Caputo ruled partly in Jack Thorpe's favor. He was, however, informed his lawsuit could continue if he were to get his two brothers, William and Richard, and the Sac & Fox Nation to join the suit. Jack Thorpe died unexpectedly just over two weeks after his partial court victory on February 22, 2011.
On May 2, the two brothers and the tribe joined the lawsuit so that the father's remains may have a proper burial. In turn, the Borough of Jim Thorpe sought to have the lawsuit dismissed maintaining it is not a museum.
While the merits of the case are yet to be determined, Judge Caputo denied the Borough of Jim Thorpe's motion for a dismissal. He ruled that the Borough is considered a museum under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation definition and it must provide an inventory of its collection and consult with Jim Thorpe's lineal descendants and the Sac & Fox Tribe.
posted December 1, 2011 7:00 am est
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