FROM THE ARCHIVE

Kennewick Man to go to tribes

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SEPTEMBER 26, 2000

A four-year dispute over the remains of a 9,000-year-old Native man has ended as the Department of Interior will repatriate Kennewick Man to five tribes in the Pacific Northwest.

On Monday, Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt announced that Kennewick Man is culturally affiliated to the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation of Oregon, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation of Oregon, the Yakama Nation of Washington, the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho, and the Wanapum Band, a non-federally recognized tribe. All five had petitioned as a group to receive and rebury the remains under the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990.

The Army Corps of Engineers was prepared to repatriate Kennewick Man, who was found on federal land ceded by the Umatilla in 1855, to the tribes. But a controversy soon developed, as scientists sued to study Kennewick Man, one of the oldest and most complete set of human remains ever found on the continent.

In order to resolve the conflict over who should get the remains of Kennewick Man, the Department of Interior had to determine if he was indeed Native American, and to what tribes or peoples, if any, he was culturally affiliated.

In January, the Interior did conclude Kennewick Man was Native American under NAGPRA. The finding was based on radiocarbon dating and previous evidence gathered on him.

The second question was more controversial and difficult to answer. In April, a group of scientists commissioned by the Interior began study on Kennewick Man in an attempt to determine his relation to the five tribes. NAGPRA requires that a preponderance of evidence be shown to make the determination.

The Interior evaluated several factors in finding that Kennewick Man is culturally affiliated to the five tribes: oral history, cultural and historical evidence, linguistic analysis, and aboriginal occupation of the area.

Examination of the tribes' "rich oral tradition" showed that ties could be shown from the present day to the past through descriptions of the physical landscape. Accounts of the ancestor to the modern-day buffalo, volcanic eruptions, floods, and other physical changes showed a connection to the region over 10,000 years ago, said the Interior.

The cultural and historical evidence showed ties to the area some 2000 to 3000 years ago. Linguistic analysis showed ties to at least 4000 years ago. Additionally, an Indian Claims Commission previously determined the land in question was aboriginally occupied by the Umatilla tribes and the Nez Perce.

"After reviewing the extensive cultural affiliation examinations and the history of the Indian Claims Commission findings, DOI has determined that proper disposition of the Kennewick remains based upon cultural affiliation and aboriginal occupation" lies with the five tribes, said Babbitt.

Although the identity of Kennewick Man is decided, the lawsuit against the federal government filed by eight scientists is still pending. The scientists plan to continue their claims.

Get the Latest Reports and Data:
Kennewick Man (National Parks Service)

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Leaders discuss NAGPRA (Indian U. 7/27)
Repatriation panel supported (Tribal Law 06/12)
Yakama Nation files Kennewick Man suit (Tribal Law 06/01)
Kennewick testing to begin (Indian U 04/24)

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NAGPRA (Tribal Law)