Bones of 'Kennewick Man' returning home for burial
The 9,000-year-old bones known as “Kennewick Man” or “the Ancient One” will be returned to Columbia River tribes for burial under terms of an amendment passed Wednesday by the U.S. House of Representatives.
The legislation is a conference-committee meeting away from going to President Obama for his signature. It must be reconciled with similar legislation, sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., passed in the Senate.
Twenty-two members of the Colville tribes donated DNA to prove that “the Ancient One” was genetically linked to modern Native Americans.
Once this was confirmed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act required that “Kennewick Man” be returned to culturally affiliated tribes.
“For two decades, the native peoples of the Columbia River Basin have striven to rebury their ancestor. The action taken by Congress today honors the rights and traditions of these tribes and returns the ‘Ancient One’ home,” said U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash.
The burial precludes scientists’ opportunities to study the remains, although, as Smithsonian magazine noted, “ancient human remains from North America are incredibly rare, and forensic technology gets better all the time.”
Kevin Taylor, in Indian Country Today, wrote:
“It’s the chafe between science and spirituality, between people who say the remains have so much to tell us about the ancient human past that they should remain available for research, versus people who feel a kinship with the ancient bones and say they should be reburied to show proper reverence for the dead.”
The remains were discovered in 1996 by two college students. They initially thought they had come across remains of a murder victim. They instead found someone living at a time when Pleistocene glaciers covered much of North America.
The repatriation of “the Ancient One” saw a rare revival, in a polarized Washington, D.C., of the once-fabled bipartisan cooperation of the Northwest’s congressional delegations.
The amendment was cosponsored by Heck and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., whose district is in central Washington. Other cosponsors were Reps. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and Greg Walden, R-Ore.
Similar cooperation, earlier this year, passed legislation sponsored by Heck that renamed the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge after conservationist, native-rights and tribal fisheries advocate Billy Frank Jr.
“Tribes in Washington state have a right to bring 'the Ancient One’ home,” said Kilmer. "I’m glad the House has recognized this and passed our bipartisan legislation to honor the descendants of the Ancient One and clear the path for a proper burial on tribal lands.“
The House-approved amendment transfers the remains from the Army Corps of Engineers to the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, in order to repatriate the remains to the tribes.
The coalition of Columbia Basin tribes includes the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, and the Wanapum Band of Priest Rapids.