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Opinion: Common ground in Kennewick Man study

"While the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act is an important law designed to rightfully return remains and artifacts to tribes where connections can be found, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2004 that remains such as Kennewick Man, exceptional in their age and appearance and with no cultural affiliation to claimant tribes, were not subject to the regulations.

That's not to say the study of Kennewick Man and the handful of other very old remains in the United States does not remain controversial, including among scientists.

� Despite the 9th Circuit's ruling in the Kennewick Man case a few months earlier, the Fallon-Shoshone Paiute Tribe in 2004 sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, claiming a skeleton even older than Kennewick Man as their ancestor and seeking to bury him. The Bureau disagrees the tribe has proven affiliation with Spirit Cave Man, found in Nevada and believed to be more than 10,000 years old. A decision is expected this year.

� Thursday, a spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. John McCain, chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said the committee may soon hold another hearing on an amendment to the repatriation law to make it easier for tribes to claim remains with only a geographic connection rather than a direct proven cultural affiliation.

� And during this round of study at the Burke, museum officials declined to formally permit reporters access to quiz the Owsley team's scientists on museum premises � something requested last July. Even though the study is sanctioned by federal courts, two officials said the museum wanted to remain "neutral" and didn't have enough staff to accommodate the request this time. A Burke spokeswoman did attend the scientists' off-site briefing, however.

After Owsley's presentation Feb. 23, Yakama Tribal Council member Glen Howard Pinkham was disturbed by parts of the very clinical talk intended for forensic scientists. Nevertheless, Pinkham, perhaps more resigned than enthusiastic, suggested the tribe would be amenable to working with the scientists in the event of new finds � with considerations."

Get the Story:
Kate Riley: Bones of contention -- and learning (The Seattle Times 3/6)

NAGPRA Amendment Bill:
S.536: Technical Corrections Act

Court Decision:
BONNICHSEN v. US (February 4, 2004)

Relevant Links:
Kennewick Man, Department of Interior -
Friends of America's Past -
Kennewick Man Virtual Interpretive Center, The Tri-City (Washington) Herald -

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Listening Lounge: Senate hearing on repatriation (07/28)
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