The name Kennewick Man is a name that the skeletal remains of the prehistoric Paleoamerican man that was found at the Columbia River bank in Kennewick was given. The skeletal remains were found in 1996 and are considered the most complete skeletal remains that have ever been found in human history. The surprise is that radiocarbon tests show that the skeleton must have been more than 8900 years old. The discovery clearly shows that human beings were involved in constant migrations more so to the western hemisphere, igniting a controversy that can eventually have an effect on the paleoanthropologists future in the U.S. Because the remains resembles the Indians, the indigenous Umatilla people claimed them in order to rebury according to The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). The law was specifically designed to remedy the situation due to the wrongs that were committed to different tribes in the American history and return any objects that were unlawfully obtained from them, including human remains. The fact here is that there was a relationship between the remains and the Native Americans. The skeletal remains resemble the South Asian people or the Polynesians. The paper will be focused on whether the skeletal remains should be released to the American Indians for burial or remain in the custody of the federal government for further analysis.
Because of these demands, a controversial court case to resolve the issue lasted for around nine years. The case featured the Native tribes in America, scientists, and engineers. It should, however, be noted that under the NAGPRA, the Native tribes had exclusive rights to take the remains for reburial and stop the scientific studies of the man that they believed was The Ancient One. Even if it was agreed that the remains should be taken by the native tribes, Owsley, and some other anthropologists filed a lawsuit to granted a chance to study the skeleton further. Because of the importance of the skeleton to the American history, it was necessary for the authorities to remain with it and ensure that it has been kept in a safe and secure place to enable the future generations to understand the wrongs that were committed by the native tribes in Americas history (Rasmussen et al., 2015). Under the law, NAGPRA gave the Kennewick people an opportunity to take the remains but even if denying them this right would be unconstitutional, it was necessary for them to remain with the federal government for the purposes of research and the benefit of future generations.
There can be difficulties in ascertaining the link between the Native Americans and the skeleton because of the time lag but, enabling a ruling to allow further studies to the remains to continue. Even if findings later revealed that there was a clear link between them, such evidence should only be used by scholars for informative and educational purposes and not as a reason as to why the federal government should no longer take control. The federal government should keep anything that can be used to study the history of the United States under the law, and because it is for the common interests and the future of the United States, NAGPRA may not be followed (Coleman, 2012). Even if some leaders such as Senator Murray and Governor Inslee advocated for the release of the remains to the respective native tribes, it could be wise to ignore their concerns. The interests of understanding the history of America by preserving the evidence is of significance to the future generations.
The Kennewick Man and some ancient skeletons have increased the debate about the history and origin of the American natives. Classifications that involve the DNA obtained from different skeletons reveals some differences as some of them are not related, making the scientists believe that there might have been more than one source of the native Americans as a result of migration. The idea should not be taken lightly or at the face value, and it is necessary to ensure that the skeletons have been kept. Retaining such skeletons means that in the future if there will be some scientific innovations that can enable the researchers to carry out an extensive analysis, they will be available, minimizing cases of reburying them for the study (Bush, 2013). The future generations should understand the history of America and the best evidence should not just be a word of mouth but written records, supported by evidence from the preserved skeletons by the federal government.
Under the NAGPRA, section 108 defines a Native American as an individual that is indigenous to the U.S. but if the 109th Congress could have passed a bill that was intended to change the definition from is to is or was, then the Kennewick Man could automatically become a native American, irrespective of whether he had a link to any tribe in America. The native tribes have good reasons as to why they should claim the remains. In the 19th century, anthropologists reburied the natives and went ahead to decapitated some dead Indians who died while fighting. All these actions did not factor their religious beliefs and feelings. NAGPRA was then passed to redress all these issues and ensure that the natives have reclaimed what belonged to them by the help of archaeologists and the anthropologists, including Owsley (Baker, 2013). However, the argument by Owsley that no evidence had been collected to justify the relationship between the skeleton and the features of the natives made the Kennewick Man to be retained. This was a necessary step because it gave the anthropologists archaeologists and the army engineers an opportunity of determining the exact origin of the skeleton. Several aspects led to the release of the skeletons to the native Americans but it is was still important for them to remain in the custody of the federal government. The government could have made it possible for scholars and scientists to conduct an extensive analysis of the skeleton over time instead of being limited to the period in which they were to study it.
In an attempt of trying to address the disrespectful way in which the remains of the Indians were treated, the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act allowed all people that had lived in North America before it was colonized by the Europeans to be considered as native Americans. This means that the native tribes could claim them. However, they had to show that indeed they had clear connections or the skeletons have cultural affiliations with them. As a result, they had every other reason to claim the Kennewick Man for reburial. That is why the federal government eventually decided to make a ruling and allow the native tribes to take the remains for burial. Nevertheless, the federal government did not consider the future of the American history as it decided to follow the law (Fletcher, 2013). For the future of the America, the generations to come will only hear of the discovery and reburial instead of having a chance to see the skeletons. If this trend continues, then any development in the future will not make sense as will have to be reburied instead of preserving it so that the future generations can carry out their independent studies.
The absence of one of the most significant evidence in the history of the United States means that the future of archeological research is no secure. Ensuring that there is enough evidence makes it possible for scholars to carry out their research and make independent solutions and recommendations to what they have actually determined. This means that giving out the Kennewick Man to the native tribes for reburial signifies a step back or a setback to the success of the future research. Scholars will have to depend entirely on the written evidence, and yet they should have had a chance of studying the skeleton. The federal government should, as a result, ensure that its policies on the future findings favor their preservation for the benefit of not only the scholars but also enable the populace to understand the American history easily. To this end, it is evidenced that as a country, it is necessary to consider the interests of the oppressed, such as the Native American tribes, but also look at the future of the country and how any decision made now will affect the scholars to come.
Baker, L. E. (2013). Their Skeletons Speak: Kennewick Man and The Paleoamerican World. By Sally M. Walker and Douglas W. Owsley. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books. 2012. 136 pp. ISBN 978076137457. $29.95 (hardcover). American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 151(3), 500-501.
Bush, E. (2013). Their Skeletons Speak: Kennewick Man and the Paleoamerican World (review). Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books,66(5), 268-269.
Coleman, C. L. (2012). How Kennewick Man and Media Constructs Frame Indian Identity. American Indians and Popular Culture: Media, sports, and politics, 1, 193.
Fletcher, A. L. (2013). Kennewick Man and the Controversy over Ownership of Indian Remains. Encyclopedia of American Indian Issues Today, 328.
Rasmussen, M., Sikora, M., Albrechtsen, A., Korneliussen, T. S., Moreno-Mayar, J. V., Poznik, G. D., ... & Willerslev, E. (2015). The ancestry and affiliations of Kennewick Man. Nature.
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