We have previously discussed the controversy over Kennewick man, the 9,000 year old skeleton found along the bank of the Columbia River eighteen years ago. Putting aside the fact that the date of the skeleton once again contradicts those who believe that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, it also represented a major scientific find. Scientists stated that the skeleton did not appear to be Native American, but Native American groups insisted that under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) they had a right to take possession of the skeleton and stop any further scientific work at the site. To the astonishment of many (particularly in the academic world), Army Corps of Engineers sided with the tribe and fought to give the non-Native American skeleton to the local tribe and dumped 2 million pounds of dirt and planted several thousand trees on top of Kennewick Man’s burial site to stop further scientific work. Now, the results are in. Kennewick Man is not Native American but the Corps is continuing to defend its absurd position and its obstruction of important scientific work.
Forensic anthropologist Doug Owsley of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History believe that KM was an immigrant who traveled in boats from Polynesia, along the coasts of Japan, Russia, Alaska, Canada and eventually up the Columbia River. There may be more evidence in the area but the Corps has succeeded in destroying what could be unique evidence of the earliest groups in North America. It is the triumph of thoughtless bureaucrats over science.
Scientists had to take the Corps to court and the Corps was criticized by U.S. Magistrate Judge John Jelderks of having “prejudged the outcome” to side with Indian tribes. The Corps and the tribes were proven wrong. However, the Corps is still saying that it acted correctly. Bizarrely, the Corps says that it does not matter if this is not a Native American gravesite under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Jennifer Richman of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stated “We are very sensitive to the facts the tribes view the remains as being very significant. The tribes view the remains as their ancestor.” That is quite a subjective standard. It would turn the Act into de facto ownership of any skeleton and accompanying artifacts found in such areas. The tribe was wrong. Its “view” of the KM being an ancestor is baseless. Yet, the Corps would reject all science and logic in barring scientists from working on such critical sites.
Kennewick Man is currently being kept away from the public in Seattle’s Burke Museum — safe from the hands of the U.S. Corps of Engineers.