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TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2002
The Ancient One was doomed from the start.
Discovered by accident on July 28, 1996, his case sparked international
interest when an early handler commented on his Caucasian looks and a new
theory quickly emerged. The Indians weren't here first after all!
Further examination showed he wasn't a long-lost relative of Star Trek's
Captain Picard, though. But it became clear that Kennewick Man, would never
rest, figuratively or physically.
Not because of that first observation, though. But because the federal
government has handled the affair about as carefully as it has managed Indian
Over the past six years, the Clinton administration:
- completely buried the site where the remains were found, a move which barred
study of the location but guaranteed more on Kennewick Man, much to the
horror of tribes involved.
- failed to handle the remains properly, causing damage to them.
- lost track of Kennewick Man's femur bones while the remains were in a
"secure" federal area and supposedly under constant watch.
- allowed bones, some of which may have belonged to Kennewick Man, to leave the
secure facility and be reburied.
- told Congress, whose members were threatening reactionary legislation, it
would not take certain actions but did so anyway.
These and other incidents clearly irked U.S. Magistrate John Jelderks of
Oregon, the federal judge assigned to sort the mess out. Only he couldn't
really do that, given government's inability to explain many of its actions,
including a decision to repatriate the remains to five tribes.
"Based upon a familiarity with this litigation developed over a number of
years and a thorough review of the record, I conclude that the final
decisions challenged here were not made by neutral and unbiased decision
makers in a fair process," he wrote last week.
Kennewick Man was initially handled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a
federal agency not known for its sensitivity in cultural matters. The Corps
came under heavy fire this summer during Senate hearings that addressed
"The consultation process is simply not there," said Tex Hall, president of
the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the largest tribal
organization in the country.
After the Corps' initial decision to hand over Kennewick Man to the tribes
was set aside, the matter was transferred to the Department of Interior,
hardly a bastion of trust responsibility, according to critics.
"Interior has chosen instead to inform the five claimant tribes of the
decisions made after-the-fact, and tried to convince us that they are doing
this 'for our own good,'" said Armand Minthorn, a Umatilla tribal member and
chair of a federal repatriation review panel, at a Senate hearing in July
The Interior and its attorneys did consult with Minthorn's tribe and four
others. But according to Jelderks and scientists who want to study Kennewick
Man, they did this a little bit too well, raising questions of bias.
Jelderks cited "largely undisputed evidence" that the government and its
- "secretly furnished" the tribes with advance copies of documents but denied
them to the scientists.
- "secretly met" with the tribes.
- "secretly sent letters" to the tribes.
- "secretly notified" the tribes of issues being raised.
- "refused" to allow the scientists to view reports and make comments. These
actions could have landed the government in more hot water. But Jelderks only
passed along on a warning -- because the Native American Graves Repatriation
and Protection Act (NAGPRA) mandates consultation with tribes.
The Interior's treatment of the tribes as one group, however, did come back
to haunt the case. Jelderks pointed out that the Wanapum Band of Washington
can't claim Kennewick Man because it lacks federal status.
He also criticized the Clinton administration for twisting the law to meet
its needs. "Under the terms of NAGPRA and relevant regulations, coalition
claims are inappropriate except under exceptional circumstances that are not
relevant here," he wrote.
The decision is likely to be appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Judge won't repatriate Kennewick Man (9/3)
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