FROM THE ARCHIVE

Judge readies decision in Kennewick Man case

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FRIDAY, JUNE 21, 2002

Five Pacific Northwest tribes who claim a 9,000-year-old man as an ancestor should know by September whether they will get to rebury him.

After years of study, the Clinton administration in late 2000 was set to return the remains of Kennewick Man to the tribes, located in Washington, Idaho and Oregon. But the repatriation of a man who at one time was declared so unlike American Indians that he must be unrelated was almost sure not to happen due to court litigation.

U.S. Magistrate John Jelderks has presided over a lawsuit filed by the scientists even before a decision was made to hand over the bones. He's taken in 20,000 pages of evidence, two days of oral arguments, and four years' worth of arguments, motions, briefs and countless more motions in a case that has drawn national attention.

This week, he finally said he was ready to rule. Almost. In a note sent to attorneys representing the scientists and the federal government, and copied to the tribes involved, he informed the parties he was near a conclusion.

"I am currently working on the final draft of the decision and my schedule should allow me to have it filed before Labor Day," Jelderks wrote on Wednesday in a letter published on the web site of the scientists.

Jelderks said was poring over the enormous record of the case. The scientists, the government, the tribes and other parties have filed competing claims to Kennewick Man, first unearthed in July 1996 and named for the Washington town near his original resting place.

Discovered on land that was once part of the Umatilla Reservation before being ceded to the federal government, Kennewick Man would have almost surely gone to the tribes were it not for his age and reported appearance. The anthropologist who first handled the bones announced that he didn't look Indian, remarks that were later regretted.

To the tribes, he is known as Techaminsh Oytpamanatityt, which in one of the Yakama Nation languages means "From the Land, the First Native." They have been part of the dispute since the start, filing briefs and, like the scientists who want to study him, awaiting a ruling that is sure to be appealed.

Repatriation has never satisfied tribes, scientists, museums or the government. Older remains and those which cannot be "culturally affiliated" with tribes are even more controversial.

New regulations the National Park Service is set to announce will change how such remains are handled. At the same time, the Bush administration will be considering a similar case involving the 10,000-year-old Spirit Cave Man of Nevada.

The tribes in the Kennewick case are the Colville Tribes of Oregon, the Umatilla Tribes of Oregon, the Yakama Nation of Washington, the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho, and the Wanapum Band, a non-federally recognized Washington tribe. They are not litigation parties.

The plaintiffs in the case are eight scientists affiliated with various educational and other institutions.

Relevant Documents:
Jelderks Letter (6/19)

Relevant Links:
Kennewick Man, Department of Interior - http://www.cr.nps.gov/aad/kennewick
Friends of America's Past - http://www.friendsofpast.org/main.html
Kennewick Man Virtual Interpretive Center, The Tri-City (Washington) Herald - http://www.kennewick-man.com

Related Stories:
Norton treads uncharted waters over remains (4/11)
Kennewick Man to go to tribes (09/26)
Leaders discuss NAGPRA (7/27)
Yakama Nation files Kennewick Man suit (6/01)
Kennewick testing to begin (4/24)
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