Sunday, July 25, 2010

Thorpe v. Thorpe, Pa.

Jack Thorpe, a son of world famous Native American athlete Jim Thorpe, has sued Thorpe, Pa. for the remains of his father, who he wants to be buried in his native Oklahoma. See

Under normal circumstances, Jack Thorpe's claim would probably not prevail given the wishes of Jim Thorpe's late wife who had him interred in a place renamed in Thorpe's honor, and those of other now deceased relatives, but Jack is citing the NAGPRA as the basis for his claim. As the New York Times explains,

Jack Thorpe waited long enough. He waited for Jim Thorpe the town to volunteer Jim Thorpe’s remains. He waited for Patricia to die, which she did in 1974. He waited for his three half-sisters to die, too, because they had differing views on their father’s final resting place and Thorpe “didn’t want to iron this out in public.” Grace, the most adamant about letting their father be, was the last to die, in 2008 at 86.

In June, with the backing of his two surviving brothers, Jack Thorpe sued the town of Jim Thorpe in United States District Court. Citing the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, the suit contends that Jack Thorpe, as a lineal descendant, has legal claim to his father’s remains.

No trial date has been set. And the town of Jim Thorpe, which slowly rebuilt itself as a tourist center with perhaps a little nudge from the dignified memorial and mausoleum for its namesake, is debating how to proceed.

“I can see the point of both sides,” said Kate Buford, the author of “Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe,” to be published in October. “It’s a really difficult issue.”

She said that the town had honored Thorpe’s memory “very well and very sincerely.”

It will be interesting to see what the court decides. I do wonder, however, if NAGPRA's drafters would have ever dreamed that the statute would form the basis of such a claim.

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