Senate panel OKs bill that could return Kennewick Man to tribes

Richland, Washington (AP) 10-07

A U.S. Senate committee has approved a bill that could allow American Indian tribes to claim the ancient bones of Kennewick Man, a 9,300-year-old skeleton found on the banks of the Columbia River in 1996.

This is the third time a change has been proposed to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The change would ensure that federally recognized tribes could claim ancient remains even if a direct link to a tribe can’t be proven.

The act governs the control of American Indian skeletons, requiring museums and federal agencies to return them to tribes if there is evidence that links the remains to the tribes.

This latest two-word addition tucked inside a bill to allow tribal participation in methamphetamine grants, among other things, would expand the definition of what remains are considered ancestral. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee approved the bill last week.

Following the discovery of Kennewick Man 11 years ago, the Umatilla, Yakama, Nez Perce and Colville tribes urged that the skeleton should be reburied without scientific study. They argued that the bones were covered under the act.

Scientists sued for a chance to study the remains and a federal court ruled there was no link between the skeleton and the tribes.

The current legislation is too new to have been considered by many of the tribes. But earlier this year the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians passed a resolution at its annual conference asking that the language proposed in the bill be added to the law. The group represents more than 50 tribes.

However, the new definition would assume that any remains found would belong to only federally recognized tribes, said Cleone Hawkinson, a founding member of the Portland, Ore.-based Friends of America’s Past. That includes remains from small bands of people who died out and left no ancestors, and remains of indigenous ancestors to modern-day Latinos, including those who died just a couple of hundred years ago.

“More than Kennewick Man is at stake,” Friends of America’s Past said in a message to members. “Unless this amendment is withdrawn, public access to the factual understanding of the nation’s prehistory shifts to the exclusive control of federally recognized American Indians.”

Information from
: Tri-City Herald,