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Geronimo Descendants Push for Return of Indian Chief's Remains

Descendants of the Apache chief, Geronimo, have announced a lawsuit to reclaim the remains of the famous Indian leader from a U.S. military burial site as well from the reportedly hidden tomb of a secret Yale University society.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. federal court this week, marks the 100th anniversary of the Apache leader's death during the Indian wars. The suit, filed by 20 of Geronimo's blood relatives, names U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates among its defendants saying that they are responsible for keeping Geronimo's remains at an army base in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Geronimo's great-grandson Harlyn Geronimo, who is leading the efforts, has asked that the remains be released and returned to Geronimo's birthplace in the southwestern United States for a traditional Apache burial. "If our remains are not properly buried, in our tradition, the spirit is just wandering until a proper burial has been performed. The only way to put this to a closure is to release the remains and his spirit so that he can be taken back to his homeland on the Gila Mountains (Arizona-New Mexico)," he said.

The lawsuit also names the secret Yale University student society, Skull and Bones, in its case. The descendants cite long held claims that in 1918 three members of the group took bones and other items buried with Geronimo at Fort Sill and are holding them at the organization's headquarters in the eastern state of Connecticut.

Prescott Bush, the grandfather of former U.S. president George W. Bush was allegedly one of the men accused of stealing the items, but officials at Fort Sill have dismissed speculation that the grave was disturbed.

The group's lawyer, former attorney general Ramsey Clark, says the lawsuit will allow them to find out if the bones are in the group's possession. "It's a good time for them to come forward say yes, or no. If the answer is no then give us the evidence," he said.

Harlyn Geronimo says that he hopes the request for his ancestor's repatriation is taken under serious consideration by U.S. authorities. He says he has previously appealed to former President George W. Bush for help in the effort, but never received a reply. "I hope the people we actually filed on will take this seriously. I believe it's on their lap at this time to seriously consider our request to release the remains and perform our correct burial in the Gila wilderness," he said.

Geronimo was one of the last Native Americans to lead warriors in the fight against Mexican and American expansion into Apache lands. In 1886, he surrendered to the U.S. military on the understanding that he would be allowed to return to his homeland and tribe.

However, Geronimo was held for more than 20 years as a free-range prisoner of war in Fort Sill until his death from tuberculosis in 1909, at the age of 90.