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Kennewick Man to Return Home?
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Kennewick Man to Return Home?

The Department of the Interior has announced that they will turn over Indian remains and artifacts currently in the possession of federal museums, even when the tribal origin of those remains has not been identified.  Those remains will be returned to the tribe that has a “proven presence on the land” where the remains were found.

This raises the question of whether the Kennewick man will now be returned.  I’m astonished that the Kennewick man has not been discussed on this blog, but the deal is that 9,000 year old human remains were found in Washington state and a Native American tribe filed a claim under NAGPRA to those remains.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the tribe, explaining that the tribe failed to establish a sufficient cultural connection or kinship to the person whose remains were found.  The practical effect was to allow archaeologists to continue scientific studies of the Kennewick man, against the wishes of the Native American tribe.

The only news I’ve seen so far on the announcement follows:

The Department of the Interior has decided to turn over to Indian tribes and Native Hawaiians the human remains and artifacts currently in possession of museums and natural history collections. Taking effect May 14, the decision includes remains that cannot be traced to a particular tribe or organization. These remains will be given to tribes that had a proven presence on the land from which the remains were taken.

Interior Department officials also announced they are streamlining the process by which it returns remains and artifacts. Previously, the Secretary of the Interior relied on a special review committee to decide how to process requests from tribes. That committee has now been eliminated.

The changes are part of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, which requires all museums and federal agencies to identify Indian cultural items in their collections. As of last year, the remains of almost 40,000 people have been registered.

In response to the Interior Department rule changes, the University of Michigan said it will return the remains of nearly 1,400 Indians, some of them more than 3,000 years old, to various tribes.

It is still unclear what will become of Kennewick Man, a 9,000-year-old skeleton that was found on the Columbia River in Washington State in 1996. The remains were the subject of a lawsuit, settled in by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2004, that denied local tribes ownership because it could not be proven that Kennewick Man belonged to a tribe.

Read more about the Kennewick Man on Wikipedia.
Check out the original article.
Hat tip to LCCHP.


  • Good day all – Here in Australia our Aboriginal people have had considerable, but hard-won,success in retreiving bones formerly held in museums in the U.K. and elsewhere. They want to bring them ‘home’, regardless of the fact that the person’s remains may well have long preceded the existence of the tribal origins of the claimants! What must we make of this insistance on the importance of the remains of bodies(not a foreign activity to our own Euro-centric present) when very ancient bones may well give we- living-now a better understanding of our past? I know that this question enters all kinds of religious, ethical and moral realms; however, this exercise is one of extreme importance to the intellectual future of man’s search for the truth (whatever ‘it’ may be) If one believes that ‘life’ still exists within dry bones, then I suppose the argument will continue. Patience is a virtue!

    • Jim,

      Thank you for your comment! The problem with the Kennewick man was that the court found no tribe could show cultural or genetic affiliation with the 9,000 year old remains. Whether or not you agree with the standard articulated in NAGPRA for the return of remains, I think its fair to say that the factual questions arising out of remains that old are different in the Americas than Australia — mainly because all human remains that old in Australia are considered ancestral Aboriginal, and the parallel is not true in America.

      Congratulations on your continued success in repatriating Aboriginal remains. I myself don’t believe in “life within bones,” BUT also think society and law should take into account the emotions and beliefs of people, regardless of whether I share those beliefs or not.

      Please do stay in touch. :)


  • Hi,

    I’m writing a report on the Kennewick man for school, and I think it’s a shame that bones that have no proven ancestry to modern Native Americans should be returned to them. The scientific community can benefit greatly from the knowledge . 8[



  • Just wanted to comment as I was doing some digging on this subject. Kennewick man is a caucasian, with no observable connection to what is commonly thought of as Indian or native american. The Native American population today relies heavily on the assumption that they were the indigenous people of America and to assert that there were caucasoids here as well, could interfere with their story.

    • Hey Sue! Thanks for visiting. Could you post a link to your findings or sources so that readers can decide for themselves whether the conclusion is accurate? Thank you! Kim

  • The Kennewick was initially observed by wealthy middle aged European men. They saw this 9,000 year old skeleton in Washington to offer a great deal of information about the possible migration of people from Asia/Europe to the Americas. Of course they will claim it is Caucasoid, that would therefore claim it their property and ensure the Europeans have the ability to do scientific research on him without interfering with NAGPRA. I am a graduate student in Minnesota for Cultural Resource Management- Archaeology and we will be discussing Kennewick Man next week in class now that we have a thorough understanding of NAGPRA. Be careful on what you read and be sure to understand who your author is and what their motives may be. Here is the official report from 2004 from American Anthropological Association Copyrite provided by the Smithsonian.

  • Here is the report…my apologies!

  • Ms. Alderman, thank you for this new and intriguing perspective to the drama of Ancient One/Kennewick Man. I have not heard that this decision will affect the disposition of the Kennewick Man remains, and I doubt that it will, after all the trouble already spent on the issue.

    I will suggest that people interested in the variety of claims to ancient remains try to understand that the perspective of Native Tribes is not based on the same approach as the scientists who also claim the remains. Though Indians respect and approve of science, their claim to ancestors is not based in DNA matches. Their religious traditions tell them that their people have always lived on the land, so to tell an Indian that he “can’t prove” affiliation scientifically may not be an effective argument.

    • Crystal,

      Please check out the post — UPDATE: Kennewick Man to Return Home? on these issues. Essentially, the legal claim is based on ancestry, and a cultural affiliation with the land or religious traditions alone do not suffice to reclaim remains under NAGPRA.

      Thank you for visiting! I enjoyed your post on the Kennewick Man on your blog as well.


  • These “native” Americans have too much influence in this matter. lts impossible to determine their true motives in wanting the remains reburied.
    lts not unreasonable to suspect because the remains might interfere with their preferred version of history they would rather the matter of the “race” of the skeleton was not investigated further. This is yet another case of political correctness corrupting truth. The more we bend to so called minorities and special interest groups the further we move toward the single party state.

  • I beleave the Kenewick Man is one of the greatist discoverys of antient Americans… to date! The Dept of Interior has no right to hide and cover up factual historical scientific information that can proove or disproove what kind of people were here 9000 years ago. I beleave the Kenewick Man was a prior Ice Age man that had NO relationship to the present day indians and only through scientific tests of him can this be prooved. I beleave that all prior Ice Age man and animals( Saber Tooth Tigers, Mastadons, Wooly Mamoths, etc.) were wiped out by the Ice Age.

    The Smithsonian Institute has covered up numerous discoverys that could alter our history books and have denied them.

  • Through forensic , anthropological and anatomical analysis, research and studies , the Truth , regarding the ‘race’ of
    Kennewick Man has been reached . He was and is a Caucasian . No disrespect to anyone… his remains were and are far older than any North American Native remains .
    As soon as Kennewick Man was analyzed by the Scientists everyone of them concluded immediately and irrefutably ,
    these were the bones of a Caucasian male . One of the many articles anyone interested in this might like to see is
    Thank you.

  • So all of those dumb western pukes had to have a white man give them a written language so why give them the time of day…My ancestors made their own language to correspond with the two divisions of the people. Idiots, do they forget that studying the skulls and bone of various people allows a forensic anatomic determination of who a murdered person happens to be??? We need to study dead bodies to learn about anatomy, but then it took hundreds of years for Europeans to stop worshiping the dead and allow the study of the dead and the living for medical purposes. I find that clinging to cultural identity and using rituals and beliefs to stop learning sounds like a bunch of fundie creationists. Cultural identity can be enjoyed but it is time to move on and seek Childhood’s End. Study Kennewick Man by using enough bone to get DNA and end the debate. Native Peoples do not need to be backward, idiots that drink and beat their wives and beg for food, etc.

  • I have no Native American blood but have great uncles and aunts that married Abenaki people.
    Through my very limited studies I have learned quite a bit of their history and culture.
    I have a new found respect and am saddened to see what happened to them.
    To this day I still hear stories of the “savages” that roamed “our” country. I know there is a lot of animosity, but after all, shouldn’t it be the goal of both sides to find the truth? The more information we have the more we can begin to understand each other. If we can keep our lines of communication open, continue the dialog perhaps a compromise can be found.