Scientists Win Kennewick
- By Richard L.
- The Oregonian
- After six grinding
years of legal wrangling, a federal judge late Friday ruled that
scientists will be allowed to study the 9,300-year-old skeleton called
- The action, taken
by U.S. Magistrate John Jelderks of U.S. District Court in Portland,
denies five Northwest tribes' affiliation with Kennewick Man and their
plea to bury his bones. Jelderks said there was insufficient evidence
to show any cultural link as required by federal law.
- Jelderks set aside
a decision made two years ago by Bruce Babbitt, former secretary of
the U.S. Department of the Interior, that the remains should be turned
over to the tribes. Jelderks called Babbitt's finding "arbitrary
- "I conclude
that the evidence before the secretary was insufficient to establish
cultural affiliation by a preponderance of the evidence,"
- Tribal members were
- "It's about as
unjust a decision as I can think of in America," said Don
Sampson, director of the Columbia Intertribal Fish Commission and
former chairman of the Umatilla tribes. "This country belonged to
Native Americans. We have been dispossessed of our own country. Now we
are dispossessed of our ancestors."
- The judge also
issued a sharp rebuke to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for allowing
Kennewick Man's discovery site to be buried before it could be
thoroughly studied. He said agency decision-makers had secretly met
with tribal representatives and furnished them with letters and
documents while refusing to let the scientists have access to
- Decisions made by
the federal agencies "were not made by neutral and unbiased
decision-makers in a fair process. . . . ," Jelderks wrote.
"Allowing study is fully consistent with applicable statutes and
regulations, which are clearly intended to make archaeological
information available to the public through public research."
- The judge gave the
scientists -- a group of eight anthropologists -- 45 days to submit a
study plan to the Interior Department.
terrific, I'm delighted," said Rob Bonnichsen, one of the eight
anthropologists who filed the suit.
- "This has been
a long process, and we have been convinced from the first that the
federal law involving these remains was not being followed," said
Bonnichsen, an anthropology professor who recently left Oregon State
University to accept a post at Texas A&M University.
- Sampson said the
case was an international human rights issue. "We pursued this
because of our religious obligation to provide for our ancestors'
remains. We're obligated, religiously and morally, to do that. Only
native people are treated this way in America.
- "We've been
dealing with archaeologists digging up our remains for so long, this
is just another slap in the face."
- Federal attorneys
were not available for comment. Dana Perino, a Justice Department
spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., said attorneys would review the
ruling before commenting.
- Oldest, most
complete remains Kennewick Man -- called "the Ancient One"
by tribes -- is a collection of 380 bones and bone fragments that were
found on the banks of the Columbia River at Kennewick, Wash., in July
- The legal dispute
erupted shortly after a radiocarbon date determined the skeletal
remains were those of a man who died 9,300 years ago. Kennewick Man is
the oldest, most complete set of remains ever found in the Northwest.
- The eight
anthropologists sued the Army Corps of Engineers in 1996 after the
agency indicated that it would turn the bones over to the tribes. The
scientists argued that they had a right to study the ancient remains
to glean information about the Northwest's earliest inhabitants.
- The tribes -- the
Colville, Umatilla, Yakama, Nez Perce and Wanapum -- say the remains
are those of an ancestor who should be turned over to them for burial.
- The Interior
Department entered the fray in 1998 after Jelderks ordered the corps
to reassess its decision. Officials with the National Park Service
conducted several scientific tests, including radiocarbon tests that
supported the 9,300-year age and DNA tests that were unsuccessful.
Jelderks heard final oral arguments 14 months ago and pored through
22,000 pages of court documents before reaching a ruling.
- Although the
dispute won worldwide attention because of its "scientists versus
tribes" aspect, the legal case focused on details of the 1990
Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or Nagpra. The
law requires tribal representatives filing claims to the remains to
show that the tribe is culturally affiliated with the ancient
individual's group. Jelderks said the requirement wasn't met.
- The scientists
maintained it is virtually impossible for a modern tribe to show
affiliation with an individual who lived more than 450 generations
ago, especially one found with no artifacts except a spearpoint in his
- They argued that
Kennewick Man's long, narrow skull and other physical charac teristics
do not match those of modern Native Americans. Federally appointed
anthropologists reported that the skull features are not similar to
those of any modern human population, but are closest to Polynesians
and the Ainu people of Japan. ___
- Kennewick Man's
bones are being stored at the Burke Museum in Seattle.
- Richard L. Hill
- Michael Milstein of
The Oregonian staff contributed to this report.
- From Tib Terry
- When Sen. John
McCain and other so-called 'leaders' passed the 1990 Native American
Graves Protection & Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) in a successful
effort to block ALL DNA and study of human remains and related
archeological sites predating 1492 -- declaring by law all pre-1492
remains to be *Native Americans* despite mounting evidence they were
White, the Kennewick Man law suit became the major challenge to the
anti-Truth NAGPRA law.
- Yesterday, the
Federal Government lost its case (funded by millions of our tax
- It may be too late
for the Kennewick Man, however. While in the government's 'care', his
bones were lost, ground up to smithereens, and possibly even replaced
by other remains. But recent discoveries of European and Welsh
artifacts and remains give us hope the Truth Will Out and the origins
of ancient Americans will become known.