In July of 1996, two college students watching a boat race near Kennewick, Washington, discovered human remains below the surface of Lake Wallula, a section of the Columbia River pooled behind McNary Dam that is owned by the Army Corps of Engineers. The bones appeared to belong to a 40-55 year old man; he had a fractured skull, a crushed chest, chipped elbow, and a stone projectile point sealed in his hip. Radiocarbon dating put the remains between 9,200-9,500 years ago.
Traditionally, human migration into the New World was believed to have happened via the Bering Land Bridge around 13,000-12,000 years ago, but there is mounting evidence that an earlier wave of migration might have occurred, possibly by boat. “Kennewick Man,” as the remains became known, became central to the debate not just about when the Americas were populated, but also how and by whom.Kennewick Man also became central to the debate over who owns the past. The Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was passed in 1990. This law requires Native American humans remains, sacred objects, and cultural items found on Federal Land to be repatriated to individuals, tribes, or organizations who claim them. The Umatilla, Yakima, Bez Oerce, Wanapum, and Colville tribal alliance claimed Kennewick Man, referred to as “The Ancient One,” as their ancestor, so the Army Corps of engineers prepared to repatriate the remains. However, eight scientists, mostly archaeologists and physical/biological anthropologists, sued the Army Corps to prevent repatriation so that they could study the remains further to learn more about ancient migration and life in the past.
Your task is to articulate the arguments on either side: the Confederated Tribes on the one hand, and the concerned scientists on the other. At the end, you should take a stand on which side you think has the 1) legal, and 2) ethical right to Kennewick Man’s remains. Your textbook has some information on the Kennewick Man controversy on pp. 307-308, but you’ll need to do some outside research to thoroughly address these arguments. A Google search for “Kennewick Man” should turn up plenty of sources, particularly journalism pieces; for more depth try “Umatilla Tribe” or “Bonnichsen et al. v. United States.”
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