It Takes an Act of Congress

 

    As noted at the beginning of the essay, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) passed by Congress and signed into law by President H. W. Bush in 1990 contains two definitive clauses.  The first,

 

“Native American” means of, or relating to, a tribe, people, or culture that is indigenous to the United States . . .   

 

is nothing but a tautology.  “Native American” is defined as being “indigenous to the United States,” in other words, native to the United States.  On this ground alone the crucial status of being “Native American” is effectively worthless, mere lawyers’ words.  This problem is compounded by the language specifying the entity which possesses that status: a tribe, people, or culture . . .  Nothing in this definition can possibly apply to isolated skeletal remains, whether complete as with Kennewick Man or, as is usually the case, incidental bone fragments.  Bones alone indicate nothing about a specific “tribe, people, or culture.”  Therefore the second and far more substantive clause of the Act requiring that “cultural affiliation” be demonstrated in every case: 

 

. . . “cultural affiliation” means that there is a relationship of shared group identity which can be reasonably traced historically or prehistorically between a present day Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization and an identifiable earlier group.

https://www.nps.gov/history/local-law/FHPL_NAGPRA.pdf  1990  

 

cannot be fulfilled.  It is crucial to recognize that Kennewick Man and the circumstances of his discovery and excavation make it utterly impossible to find a scintilla of evidence of “cultural affiliation.” 

    Before proceeding to examine the fate of Kennewick Man, it is important to note that, until the tribes and bureaucrats subverted it, NAGPRA filled a real need.  The history of the American West is far more nuanced than most Americans realize, who tend to view it as a set of cardboard cutouts.  Brutal cavalry, greedy robber barons, and invasive settlers were pitted against native peoples who were either ferocious warriors in the mold of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse or peaceful villagers subject to massacre by the whites.  Yet the “Indian Wars” were a prominent element of American history from the early 17th century until several years after World War I.  West of the Mississippi, that period was mostly condensed to the 19th century.  Fur traders and the heavily romanticized mountain men made inroads in Indian country which were mostly accommodated until the 1820s, when increased contact led to open hostilities.  From then until the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876, the entire Great Plains and Rocky Mountain West were a theater of guerilla warfare in which hapless settlers and Indian villagers alike fell victim to brutal attacks.  And for most of that time it was by no means a one-sided conflict.  With the U. S. Army fully committed (and nearly overwhelmed) during the years of the Civil War, the prairies and mountains of the West were a no-man’s land where no one, white or Indian, was secure.

    Complicating the ongoing hostilities between Indian and white was the well-established tradition of intergroup raiding among Plains groups.  It is a threadbare stereotype to portray “the Indian people” as a unified group valiantly defending their land against marauding whites.  One tribe or village raided another for women, horses, scalps.  Some groups were more aggressive than others, leaving the latter to opt for a settlement pattern that came to apply to all Indians as the most bellicose groups gave up the fight.  In increasing numbers Indians sought the protection and sustenance of forts, missions, and trading posts.  When these displaced persons died, their remains were not buried alongside whites, but consigned to separate unhallowed “Indian burial grounds” some distance from fort or mission.  As the years passed these locations became the object of odious grave-robbing forays by local whites who had arrived in the interim.  Funerary objects, skulls, sometimes entire skeletons became collectibles, occasionally exhibited in roadside “museums” as tourist attractions. 

    It was this repugnant practice that NAGPRA was designed to stop.  Remains and artifacts interred in the 1850s and looted in the 1950s could be shown to have a clear connection to living Indians in the area.  The requirement of “cultural affinity” was thus easily met.  But beyond a century or two or three, that affinity became increasingly difficult to establish.  Groups decimated by disease and warfare merged with other, formerly culturally distinct groups to form communities in which it was impossible to identify anything resembling a coherent “tribal” tradition.  Contemporary example of this process are the two principal claimants in the Kennewick Man case, the “Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation” and “The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.”  In pre-contact times, these “confederations” consisted of groups distinct in custom and language, groups often in a state of intermittent warfare with one another.  Despite all this, NAGPRA could be a reliable resource for local and Federal officials charged with returning the contents of looted graves to Indian groups in the immediate vicinity. 

     But the second provision of the law, the requirement to establish “cultural affinity” between a set of remains and an existing indigenous people, becomes completely untenable when the time frame is changed from a few hundred to thousands of years (about 9,000 years in the case of Kennewick Man).  Thus when the editors of Nature (in the piece cited above) note that the next crucial step in determining the ancestry of Kennewick Man would be to establish cultural affinity, they also signal that is an impossible task.  The genomic analysis, seriously compromised and pointing to related groups spread from the Northwest Coast to the Amazon, was – or should have been – useless in effecting a determination of origin, and the requirement of cultural affinity was a complete non-starter. 

    To their credit the Corps of Engineers, barely competent and, in the case of Kennewick Man, obstructionist (recall the tons of concrete rubble the Corps deposited on the excavation site) was careful to spell out the requirement in its June 2016 “Determination”: 

 

 

 Determining remains to be Native American is, therefore, distinct from determining cultural affiliation. Cultural affiliation, the second step of the NAGPRA process, is required before transfer may occur. See Bonnichsen II, 367 F.3d at 875 (the first inquiry asks "whether the human remains are Native American" and the second inquiry asks "which American Indians or Indian tribe bears the closest relationship to Native American remains"). This determination does not address cultural affiliation nor does it propose a transfer of custody of the remains. To establish cultural affiliation, there must be a preponderance of evidence that there is a "relationship of shared group identity which can be reasonably traced” between a present day Indian tribe and an identifiable earlier group. 25 U.S.C. § 3001(2); see also 25 U.S.C. § 3005(a)(4). First, substantial evidence is a lower threshold of proof than preponderance of the evidence. Substantial evidence is essentially a reasonableness standard ("such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion"), whereas preponderance of the evidence requires the conclusion being drawn as being more likely than not true. Second, to be Native American under NAGPRA, there needs to be merely a connection to a presently existing tribe, people, or culture. For cultural affiliation, there needs to be shared group identity with a tribe. A tribe, people, or culture is significantly broader than only a tribe; likewise a "connection" is more ephemeral than a "shared group identity."

(“Determination . . .”  my emphasis) 

 

How, then, were the tribes to proceed with their demands? 

    Answer: Enter the U. S. Congress, in the personages of Senator Patty Murray (Washington state) and Representative Denny Heck (10th Congressional district, Washington state), whose reelection campaigns receive substantial contributions from Colville and Umatilla groups and individuals.  Murray and Heck separately sponsored identical bills, “Bring the Ancient One Home Act of 2015,” which were debated and passed on to a Senate-House conference committee.   Note the evocative language in the bills’ title: “bring” rather than “send,” “take,” or even “return” conjures an image of an impassioned people who have waited decades for a champion (in this case federal and state bureaucracies) to unite their kinsman, purloined by atheistic scientists, with them.  And where would that reunion take place?  Why, “home” of course, the Columbia plateau inhabited by Colville and Umatilla groups.  Before composing their impassioned legislation, our learned Senator and Congressman, supposedly representatives of all residents of Washington and its districts and not just a few thousand Indians, evidently did not take the time to consult Owsley’s and Jantz’s definitive opus.  Had they done so, they or their minion aides would have learned that “home” for Kennewick Man was hundreds of miles distant from the upper Columbia, somewhere on the long stretch of the Northwest Coast.  Unburdened by that inconvenient knowledge of provenance, Murray was free to wax eloquent and combative – the preferred style of politicians:   

 

“After more than twenty years of debate, it’s time to return the Ancient One to his rightful resting place,” Senator Murray said. “I’m proud to see this legislation so close to the finish line. I’ll be fighting to ensure we get this done to honor his descendants and write the final chapter on the history of the Ancient One.” 

https://www.murray.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/newsroom?ID=B4386687...

 

 

For their part, tribal elders cum casino executives added to the repertoire of ritual they performed to “bring the Ancient One home”: pay to play.   No one can now dispute the efficacy of ritual. 

    We cannot know the ins and outs of negotiations in the conference committee, but in the course of things the free-standing “Bring the Ancient One Home” bill was transformed into a one-page section, “Kennewick Man,” and buried (!) in a 644-page authorization bill covering Army Corps projects for the next fiscal year: the “Water Resources Development Act of 2016.” 

https://www.congress.gov/114/bills/s2848/BILLS-114s2848es.pdf

It is Congressional logic at its finest, the logic of pork as practiced by venal and ignorant politicians.  The Act describes itself as:

 

AN ACT To provide for the conservation and development of water and related resources, to authorize the Secretary of the Army to construct various projects for improvements to rivers and harbors of the United States, and for other purposes.

 

 Kennewick Man a water-related resource?  Well, after all, the skeleton was discovered in the shallow water of a river, therefore it must be just such a resource.  And while “repatriating” Kennewick Man may not be one of those “improvements to rivers and harbors” specified in the Act, the skeleton definitely falls (along with anything else a member of Congress can profit from) under “other purposes.”  

    The section begins with gross inaccuracy and obfuscation: 

 

Sec. 1030. KENNEWICK MAN. Requires the Corps to repatriate the Kennewick Man (a 9000 year old skeleton found by the Corps of Engineers) to the tribes that scientific studies have demonstrated are descendants. 

 

Even the simple fact of the discovery is spun.  The skeleton was not “found by the Corps of Engineers” – which insinuates that the Corps had the right of possession from the start.  Rather, as we have seen, the discovery was made by two young men who notified the relevant local (not federal) authorities.  After the county coroner and an archeologist consultant carefully retrieved the bones and after the tribes got wind of the find and raised the alarm, the heavy-handed Feds moved in to confiscate the remains. 
Quite a different story.  And then there are those “scientific studies” that demonstrate that the local tribes are “descendants.”  Again as we have seen, some Colville and Umatilla are descendants, but are no more closely related than Indian groups as far away as the Amazon. 

    The most serious flaw of Section 1030, however, is that it blatantly subverts canonical law covering Indian remains: NAGPRA.  As the definitive statement of the federal government’s position on the subject, one must ask how an incidental rider to an authorization bill on water resources can circumvent the Act’s all-important requirement to establish “cultural affinity” before any remains can be “repatriated.”  Since that requirement is manifestly impossible to meet, how might Section 1030 be implemented?  In the halls of Congress, the answer is simple: ignore it. 

 

  TRANSFER.—Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal law, including the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (25 U.S.C. 3001 et seq.), or law of the State of Washington, not later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary, acting through the Chief of Engineers, shall transfer the human remains to the Department [Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation], on the condition that the Department, acting through the State Historic Preservation Officer, disposes of the remains and repatriates the remains to claimant tribes.  (my emphasis) 

 

“Notwithstanding,” in lawyer-speak, means “disregarding.”  As in so many avenues of American life, our proud claim to be governed by “the rule of law” effectively translates as “the rule of lawyers.”  They make the rules; they can change or break them as they see fit.  Senator Patty Murray and Representative Denny Heck are to be congratulated: far from the banks of the Columbia, they have proven themselves exemplary members of their own tribe.    

    On December 16, 2016, eight months after General Spellmon issued the Corps’ “Determination,” President Obama signed the Act into law.  Two months later, on February 16, 2017, representatives of the Burke Museum in Seattle which had curated the remains, in the company of several Corps officials and state bureaucrats, formally transferred them to assorted tribal members.  The next morning a large group of tribal elders assembled in an undisclosed location and reburied the bones.  Kennewick Man was lost to science and to any intellectual inquiry guided by the need to know. 

    Numerous tribal publications celebrated the victory; some went on at length to expound Indian self-vindication.  Below is a particularly detailed report.  Winston Smith would have recognized the Newspeak genre, but probably been deeply puzzled by the fact that it emanates from a group that celebrates its victimhood rather than power (Orwell did not foresee the time when paraded victimization would equate with political power).  It is quoted at length here.   

    From “After 20 Years, Kennewick Man or the Ancient One, Returns Home: Ancient Man Laid to Rest in Private Ceremony on Columbia Plateau,” by Richard Walker, Indian Country Today Media Network.  March 7, 2017. 

 

 

COLUMBIA PLATEAU —Uutpama Natitayt — Kennewick Man, or the Ancient One, an ancestor of the First People of the Columbia Plateau — is finally home.

More than 200 of his relatives came together at an undisclosed location on the Columbia Plateau early Feb. 18 to lay him to rest. They came from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, from the Nez Perce Tribe, from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation and the Wanapum Tribe and the Yakama Nation.

Religious leaders from each of the Native Nations jointly conducted a ceremony. And then Kennewick Man’s remains were returned to the earth, just as loved ones first laid him to rest some 9,000 years ago.

The ceremony was private.

Uytpama Natitayt (sounds like “Oit pa ma na tit tite”) knew this place. The Ancient One fished for salmon, steelhead and sturgeon in the Columbia River, which he likely knew as Nch’i-Wana, or “Great River.” He hunted and harvested in the eco-diverse grasslands, savannas and shrublands of the plateau. His relatives still fish and hunt and harvest here. And they still honor, remember and respect the ancestors who gave life to the next generation and passed on the teachings before walking on.

“The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation is proud to have worked with all parties to repatriate the Ancient One to the Tribes,” Umatilla Chairman Gary Burke said in an announcement issued by the Umatilla Tribes. “We jointly believe in respecting our ancestors of our past and have fulfilled our responsibility to finally lay the Ancient One to rest.”

Umatilla Tribes Council member Armand Minthorn added, “This is a big day and our people have come to witness and honor our ancestor. We continue to practice our beliefs and laws as our Creator has given us since time immemorial.”

In a separate statement issued by his office, Yakama Nation Chairman JoDe Goudy said: “The return of our ancestor to Mother Earth is a blessing for all Yakama people. The Ancient One (also known as the ‘Kennewick Man’) may now finally find peace, and we, his relatives, will equally feel content knowing that this work has been completed on his behalf. For more than two decades we have fought on behalf of our ancestors. The unity of the Native people during our collective efforts to bring the Ancient One home is a glimpse of how life once was, when we were all one people.”

Uytpama Natitayt’s journey to this day was a long one. Two men inadvertently found Kennewick Man’s remains, which had been exposed by erosion, on the shores of the Columbia River in 1996. The Plateau Tribes believed that the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, would ensure the Ancient One would be quickly returned for reburial. Court challenges delayed that return.

In the ensuing years, Uytpama Natitayt was subjected to anthropological study, and his remains were handled and measured and sampled. Kennewick Man was determined to be 8,400 to 8,690 years old, according to the Burke Museum. Some questioned his origin and his identity. But his relatives knew who he was and never ceased in their efforts to have him returned home.

Modern genetic science proved Kennewick Man’s relatives right—that he was indeed from the Plateau and an ancestor of today’s indigenous Plateau peoples. “We always knew the Ancient One to be Indian,” Umatilla Tribes Council member Aaron Ashley said in the announcement. “We have oral stories that tell of our history on this land and we knew, at the moment of his discovery, that he was our relation.”

On December 10, Congress approved a bill requiring the Washington State Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation to return Uytpama Natitayt’s remains to his relatives at the Colville, Nez Perce, Umatilla, Yakama, and Wanapum nations. On February 17, representatives of the Plateau Tribes met at the Burke Museum in Seattle, where the remains had been held. Representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation, and curators of the Burke Museum, formally returned Uytpama Natitayt’s remains to his people.

While the Ancient One’s return was being argued in the courts and in Congress, the state’s historic preservation office was responsible for his remains. At the ceremony formally returning Kennewick Man to his relatives, state historic preservation officer Allyson Brooks apologized for the trauma caused by the separation.

“On behalf of Gov. Jay Inslee and the State of Washington, it is my honor today to pass your relative, the Ancient One, back to you so you can have your family member again like you should have all along,” Brooks said. “I have been your state historic preservation officer for 18 years and this is one of my proudest moments, and I apologize to all of you for the trauma that this has caused for the last 20 years, and I apologize to the Ancient One for the trauma he has gone through for the past 20 years.”

She said her hope for the Ancient One “is that he go home by the Columbia River … so he can be at peace.”

To the Ancient One, she said, “You did wake me up at nights, so I’ll be really happy if I can sleep again.” To his relatives, she said, “I want to congratulate you for never, ever, ever giving up on your family member.”

Who was Uytpama Natitayt?

Uytpama Natitayt received his name from the Plateau Tribes; “Uytpama Natitayt” means “Ancient One,” according to Chuck Sams, the Umatilla Tribes’ communications director.

If alive today, Uytpama Natitayt might be a poster boy for the health benefits of an Omega 3-rich diet.

According to an anthropological report on the National Park Service website, Kennewick Man stood about 5 feet 9 inches, and his diet consisted mostly of fish. He was “in excellent shape for a man of his age.” He was well-muscled and had arms similar to those of “modern weight lifters or construction laborers.” Another anthropologist who studied his remains told National Public Radio that the Ancient One’s right arm resembled that of a professional baseball pitcher. The NPR writer was compelled to refer to Uytpama Natitayt as “beefcake.”

Uytpama Natitayt was definitely buff. At one point in his life, when he was a teenager, he was injured in an accident or conflict; he suffered two broken ribs and a broken right arm, and a projectile point was embedded in his pelvis. Kennewick Man completely recovered from his injuries.

Uytpama Natitayt passed away when he was 45 to 50 years old, possibly from a frontal bone injury. Nearly nine millennia after his passing, he returned to show the world that The People are indeed indigenous to this land, that their oral histories are not myths but factual record.

His work done, Uytpama Natitayt rests again. 

 

   Enough.  Throughout this essay I have tried to maintain a fairly objective style, thinking that Owsley et al and their magisterial study of Kennewick Man deserved that much.  But the outrageous end of the saga, made possible by a pair of D. C. swamp creatures whose political trickery made a mockery of settled law, is really too much to countenance.  Added to that is the insufferable, preening self-congratulation, of which the above is merely one example, by tribal representatives.  Not content to take their ill-gotten booty of bones and bury them in some forlorn patch of dirt, they elect to crow about it, to parade a host of ludicrous stereotypes as though they actually held meaning, to exult in their own virulent racism and call it vindication.  Richard Walker, apparently a credentialed journalist, has chosen to publish the above piece.  I think it deserves a close textual scrutiny.  After all, he committed his ridiculous beliefs to prose; he should therefore expect at least the possibility of push-back.  Here, well away from the claustrophobic Indian press, is that response (reader, please note, I allow myself a certain authorial license).  My critique is in brackets and bold print, interspersed with the text. 

 

COLUMBIA PLATEAU —Uutpama Natitayt — Kennewick Man, or the Ancient One, an ancestor of the First People of the Columbia Plateau — is finally home.  [Again, Kennewick Man’s “home” was not the Columbia Plateau, but hundreds of miles away.]

More than 200 of his relatives [“relatives”?] came together at an undisclosed location on the Columbia Plateau early Feb. 18 to lay him to rest. They came from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, from the Nez Perce Tribe, from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation and the Wanapum Tribe and the Yakama Nation.  [a dozen or more distinct and often bellicose groups in pre-contact times, of which there would have been no trace 8,500 years ago]

Religious leaders from each of the Native Nations [Native Nations?  “Nations”?? Is it possible to stretch a semantic category completely beyond the bounds of any conceivable rationality?  Well, apparently it is.  Of the some 330 “federally recognized tribes” in the contiguous U. S., several dozen have a population of zero living on their reservation land.  Might we term this a “null nation”?  Many “nations” consist of a few dozen or a few hundred Indians.  In one particularly bizarre case, the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians, surrounded by the luxurious country clubs of California’s Coachella Valley, is represented by a single adult and some eight minors.  That “sovereign nation” now boasts its own large casino.]  jointly conducted a ceremony. And then Kennewick Man’s remains were returned to the earth, just as loved ones first laid him to rest some 9,000 years ago.

The ceremony was private.

Uytpama Natitayt (sounds like “Oit pa ma na tit tite”) knew this place. The Ancient One fished for salmon, steelhead and sturgeon in the Columbia River, which he likely knew as Nch’i-Wana, or “Great River.” [Astonishly, it appears Kennewick Man spoke the contemporary Umatilla dialect of the Sahaptin language family.  Consider this absurdity for a moment: A time-warped Kennewick Man miraculously appears at a gathering of Umatilla.  Could they carry on a conversation?  Assuming, of course, that any of the assembled Umatilla had a conversational grasp of the language.  We are informed of KM’s spoken language by one Chuck Sams, described as “a spokesman for the Umatilla tribe.”  Before imparting his wisdom to others, Sams might have acquainted himself with the rudiments of historical linguistics.  All languages change, all the time, so that Chaucer’s English, for example, is barely intelligible to modern ears and Beowulf’s Old English is a foreign tongue.  Chuck Sams is a huckster.  He doesn’t have a clue about the nature of language, but is simply intent on spewing the party line.   He hunted and harvested in the eco-diverse grasslands, savannas and shrublands of the plateau. [If Kennewick Man fished in the Columbia, that was done hundreds of miles to the west of the Plateau.  His diet did not include mammals from the grasslands of the Plateau, but principally marine mammals such as seal.  He was a canoe-bound harpooner, not a big game hunter.]  His relatives [again, “relatives”?] still fish and hunt and harvest here. And they still honor, remember and respect the ancestors who gave life to the next generation and passed on the teachings before walking on.   [Where do they “honor, remember and respect” the ancestors more: at the slot machines or the blackjack tables of the three Colville casinos and the numerous other Indian casinos in the area?]   

“The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation is proud to have worked with all parties to repatriate the Ancient One to the Tribes,” Umatilla Chairman Gary Burke said in an announcement issued by the Umatilla Tribes.  [“Gary Burke” – a common name in the Umatilla language?  Or, how might it translate into Umatilla?]  “We jointly believe in respecting our ancestors of our past and have fulfilled our responsibility to finally lay the Ancient One to rest.”

Umatilla Tribes Council member Armand Minthorn added, “This is a big day and our people have come to witness and honor our ancestor. We continue to practice our beliefs and laws as our Creator has given us since time immemorial.”  [Where do those slot machines and blackjack tables fit in Minthorn’s self-righteous spiel about the Creator and time immemorial?]  In a separate statement issued by his office, Yakama Nation Chairman JoDe Goudy said: “The return of our ancestor to Mother Earth is a blessing for all Yakama people. The Ancient One (also known as the ‘Kennewick Man’) may now finally find peace, and we, his relatives, will equally feel content knowing that this work has been completed on his behalf. For more than two decades we have fought on behalf of our ancestors. The unity of the Native people during our collective efforts to bring the Ancient One home is a glimpse of how life once was, when we were all one people.”  [. . . “when we were all one people.”  The “Yakama” are another bureaucratic construct, a made-up “confederated tribes and bands” consisting of a couple of dozen formerly distinct and often hostile groups, groups assembled in a “confederation” only through historical forces of expanding white settlement and declining native populations.  Chairman JoDe might be asked how, if KM lived in a world of “one people,” he acquired that two-inch projectile point buried in his pelvic bone, two skull fractures, a major trauma to a shoulder bone, and numerous broken ribs.  Not exactly a kumbaya kind of world.]  

Uytpama Natitayt’s journey to this day was a long one. Two men inadvertently found Kennewick Man’s remains, which had been exposed by erosion, on the shores of the Columbia River in 1996. The Plateau Tribes believed that the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, would ensure the Ancient One would be quickly returned for reburial. Court challenges delayed that return.

In the ensuing years, Uytpama Natitayt was subjected to anthropological study, and his remains were handled and measured and sampled. Kennewick Man was determined to be 8,400 to 8,690 years old, according to the Burke Museum. Some questioned his origin and his identity. But his relatives knew who he was and never ceased in their efforts to have him returned home.  [His “relatives” knew, and they were forced to sit by while the white man’s court allowed godless scientists to commit their sacrilege on KM’s remains, handling, measuring, and sampling them.  And now, thanks to Owsley et al, that constitutes all the knowledge we will ever have of KM and his story.  The “relatives” “knowledge” is a willful stance of we-know-nothing and will not permit you to know anything, either.]

Modern genetic science proved Kennewick Man’s relatives right—that he was indeed from the Plateau and an ancestor of today’s indigenous Plateau peoples. “We always knew the Ancient One to be Indian,” Umatilla Tribes Council member Aaron Ashley said in the announcement. “We have oral stories that tell of our history on this land and we knew, at the moment of his discovery, that he was our relation.”  [“Modern genetic science” proved nothing of the sort.  It “proved” that KM’s descendants were scattered around the hemisphere.  There is nothing in the genomic analysis to support Ashley’s hucksterism that KM “was indeed from the Plateau.”  In fact, Owsley et al, working with modern biochemical science have demonstrated that KM was definitely not from the Plateau, but lived his life on a distant ocean shore.]   

On December 10, Congress approved a bill requiring the Washington State Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation to return Uytpama Natitayt’s remains to his relatives at the Colville, Nez Perce, Umatilla, Yakama, and Wanapum nations. On February 17, representatives of the Plateau Tribes met at the Burke Museum in Seattle, where the remains had been held. Representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation, and curators of the Burke Museum, formally returned Uytpama Natitayt’s remains to his people.  [An extremely misleading account of the legislative process, making it sound as though the U. S. Congress as a whole championed the tribes’ effort to “return” KM to his “relatives.”  As we have noted, what Congress approved was a huge document, a Water Resources authorization bill, into which two clever politicians managed to insert a one-page clause covering the disposition of KM’s remains.

While the Ancient One’s return was being argued in the courts and in Congress, the state’s historic preservation office was responsible for his remains. At the ceremony formally returning Kennewick Man to his relatives, state historic preservation officer Allyson Brooks apologized for the trauma caused by the separation.

“On behalf of Gov. Jay Inslee and the State of Washington, it is my honor today to pass your relative, the Ancient One, back to you so you can have your family member again like you should have all along,” Brooks said. “I have been your state historic preservation officer for 18 years and this is one of my proudest moments, and I apologize to all of you for the trauma that this has caused for the last 20 years, and I apologize to the Ancient One for the trauma he has gone through for the past 20 years.”

She said her hope for the Ancient One “is that he go home by the Columbia River … so he can be at peace.”

To the Ancient One, she said, “You did wake me up at nights, so I’ll be really happy if I can sleep again.” To his relatives, she said, “I want to congratulate you for never, ever, ever giving up on your family member.”  [The saga of Kennewick Man is a sordid tale of bureaucratic incompetence and collusion by the Corps of Engineers, of backroom political scheming by Senator Patty and Representative Denny, and of outright delusional thinking by tribal members, but none of these is as repugnant as the statement above by Allyson Brooks.  As state historic preservation officer, her vocation and training should at least have left her open, if not amenable to the archeologists’ project to discover everything they could about KM, to preserve his history.  Instead, she apologizes to the assembled Indians and to the Ancient One himself for performing her job as curator of the remains – which, according to Owsley et al, she did not do very well.  It may be a first: apologizing to a thousands-years-old skeleton.  Brooks appears to wallow in guilt over her white privilege.  Did it not occur to her that if she preferred Indian advocacy to her professional calling, there was a simple solution: quit her job.  Instead, she held onto her well-paid state job for eighteen years, all the while Kennewick Man lay in the basement of the Burke Museum.  The Corps is guilty of incompetence, the politicians are guilty of being politicians, the tribal elders are guilty of no-nothing hucksterism, but, far worse, Brooks is guilty of hypocrisy.]  

Who was Uytpama Natitayt?

Uytpama Natitayt received his name from the Plateau Tribes; “Uytpama Natitayt” means “Ancient One,” according to Chuck Sams, the Umatilla Tribes’ communications director.

If alive today, Uytpama Natitayt might be a poster boy for the health benefits of an Omega 3-rich diet.

According to an anthropological report on the National Park Service website, Kennewick Man stood about 5 feet 9 inches, and his diet consisted mostly of fish. He was “in excellent shape for a man of his age.” He was well-muscled and had arms similar to those of “modern weight lifters or construction laborers.” Another anthropologist who studied his remains told National Public Radio that the Ancient One’s right arm resembled that of a professional baseball pitcher. The NPR writer was compelled to refer to Uytpama Natitayt as “beefcake.”  [Neither of these sources is cited.  If the NPS document is correctly cited, it is in error.  KM’s diet did not consist mostly of fish, but, as Owsley et al established conclusively, of marine mammals.  But perhaps KM’s lifelong practice of slaughtering seals did not project quite the eco-friendly image tribal spokesmen desired.  And he was hardly in “excellent shape for a man of his age.”  His age, by the way, was probably around 38, rather than 45-50 as given below.  Close analysis of the skeleton showed that KM was arthritic in several joints, but not to the point that he was crippled.  The projectile point fused in his hip must have given him a decided limp, and was probably a source of considerable pain throughout the rest of his life.  In addition, multiple skull fractures and broken bones must have impacted his “excellent health.” 

Uytpama Natitayt was definitely buff. At one point in his life, when he was a teenager, he was injured in an accident or conflict; he suffered two broken ribs and a broken right arm, and a projectile point was embedded in his pelvis. Kennewick Man completely recovered from his injuries.  [This is studiously vague.  KM’s multiple serious injuries were incurred throughout his life.  The skull fractures are not even mentioned.  “When he was a teenager” implies that, boys being boys, they get into scraps and hurt themselves.  The reality is that KM lived in a harsh, rough-and-tumble, and sometimes dangerous world.  He took his licks, but the fact that he survived indicates that he returned the favor.  One people, one world, indeed.  Utter rot.] 

Uytpama Natitayt passed away when he was 45 to 50 years old, possibly from a frontal bone injury. Nearly nine millennia after his passing, he returned to show the world that The People are indeed indigenous to this land, that their oral histories are not myths but factual record.  [“The People”:  could this be construed as anything but blatant racism? The purist form of racism is to invoke racial purity as a basis for social action.] 

His work done, Uytpama Natitayt rests again.  [No, he has been silenced forever by the bigotry of tribal elders (unless KM becomes a promo poster for their casinos) and by the white guilt that is an increasingly pervasive feature of American life.  

 He will be called by a name in his language—not Kennewick Man, but Uytpama Natitayt, a name that means “Ancient One,”  [again, “his language.” Willful delusion – a term describing this entire oration.] 

 

 

 

    In conclusion, and to put this bigoted rubbish behind us, it is important to emphasize what we had, and how much we may have lost. 

 

Regardless of the explanation, the fact of the absolute rarity of documented ancient human remains in America means that each new discovery represents a vitally important addition to knowledge of the lives and deaths of the first Americans.  The accidental discovery in 1996 of Kennewick Man, or the Ancient One as he is known to many American Indians, represented an opportunity to learn from the physical remains of a man who, while not in the vanguard of exploration, still is among the most ancient human remains discovered in America.  The extraordinary completeness of the skeleton and the high degree of preservation make this discovery exceptional and one of the most potentially informative sets of human remains ever recovered in North America – “The People Who Peopled America,” Bradley T. Lepper.  In Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton

 

 

   As we marvel at how rapidly our ability to learn from the human skeleton is advancing, and how rarely discoveries of Kennewick Man’s magnitude occur, it is our responsibility to look to the future and emphasize that some skeletal collections and individual skeletons are particularly important in terms of what they can reveal about past populations.  We, today, do not know the questions that will be significant in the future, but the remains of the earliest Americans, if respectfully cared for and curated, can be available to answer new questions.  These human remains are America’s ambassadors to our ancient past. 

– “Who Was Kennewick Man?”,  Douglas W. Owsley and Richard L. Jantz. In Kennewick Man . . .

 

It is our peculiarly American tragedy that, just as the methods of modern science are increasingly able to propose answers to those new questions, the future of our past is foreclosed by a coterie of tribal hucksters, venal politicians, and spineless bureaucrats eager to bend to the winds of political correctness.  Kennewick Man has now joined Buhl Woman, the Chancellor California pair, Spirit Cave Man, Grimes Rock Shelter Boy, Minnesota Woman, Browns Valley Man and a growing list of potential “ambassadors to our ancient past” as victims of a know-nothing conspiracy of silence. 

 

 

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Huon,

    As anthropologists we recognize the power of metaphors to influence thought and action.  And as Caribbeanists we recognize the power the metaphor of “blood” has had in buttressing the system of slavery.  Despite its odious history, that metaphor now figures prominently in the identity politics movement, of which one peculiar example is Indian activists’ claim to be a chosen People.  What I can’t begin to understand is how the racist oppression of Indians in U.S. history justifies Indian activists’ invoking the metaphor of blood to further their aims.  How is it wrong one time, right in another? 

    Meanwhile, Kennewick Man is resurrected, bringing with him the timeless wisdom of The Ancient One:  

faites vos jeux indeed. I agree, explanation is not a justification -- to understand everything is not to pardon anything. Certainly the parties to this debate could learn from the Caribbean that any claim to essential identity should appear accompanied with a very large pinch of salt (as indeed salt does appear on the table at the wake night for the dead) and with  a raucous laugh. My point was that there is no political claim in the U.S. without a claim to identity because that is how American society works. The 'indigenous' communities in the U.S. were already just remnants when Lowie and co. started studying them. They were forced into adopting a 'cultural identity' in order to make claims on the state. The reservations date from the same period as the abolition of slavery, reconstruction and the ascendency of Northern industrialism. Perhaps Kennewick man came down from the civilized North to finish the job - break up the last ugly symbols of the local 'Deplorables'. Indeed, who knows what other remains of this first encounter archaeologists might have found if the Columbia river hadn't been flooded to build the Grand Coulee Dam?

Let's allow that the rhetoric about 'the ancient one' is eyewash plain and simple as you say. Isn't it possible that these terms were deployed because sentimentalist nonsense of this kind is the only language that the wider society will listen to? Another tack would have been to say 'you "gave" us our own land as a reservation. Then you took two thirds of it away. Then you built a dam that destroyed our means of livelihood, salmon fishing. Now you want to take this bit of 'intellectual property' too so you can tell a story with it that doesn't include us and which doesn't acknowledge what we all know to be the case, that we got here first -- where do you people get off?' Except that the 'wise naturvolk' rhetoric works while the other version, based in historical fact, just gets people riled up.

I am not sure who is using the 'blood' metaphor in the Kennewick case, but blood is, in effect, used all over the place to settle disputes about ownership of property -- if Bob and Sue die intestate their estate goes to their next of kin,-- their 'bloodline' is thus preserved (it sounds gruesome, but it let's face it that is what most people understand to be going on); and I don't think Antifa will be banging at their children's door calling them racists. The issue in hand, when you scrape the surface, is about ownership. Colvillers, Umatilla etc. are simply saying 'this place is ours, the Kennewick remains are part of our estate, and we are related to Kennewick man -- you are not'. None of this would be deemed 'fascism' if it was part of a land dispute between two neighbours in a Californian suburb.

The whole reservation system is an ugly anomaly and a moral sore in a society that is supposed to be built on individualism and democratic participation. But that is hardly a reason to blame the subjects of the social experiment if they play the hand given them.

 

    “Blood quantum” laws appear throughout the tragic history of Indian-White relations in the US.  As I note in the essay, one Colville activist employs it in an extreme form to argue that “one drop of Indian blood” confers Indian identity on an individual.  What I find so horrific about the blood metaphor, both in the KM case and in the contemporary context of identity politics in the US, is that it expropriates kinship to further what is essentially a racist cause.  In American Kinship David Schneider argues that “blood” is a foundational metaphor of the cultural system of kinship in the US.  Its use explicitly separates Us, Family, Kinfolk from the wider society, where ethnic or racial identity come to the fore.  However, racists are happy to use it in claiming some fundamental unity with those they perceive as like themselves.  In AD I argue that kinship and ethnicity/race are polarities or antinomies that assign identity based on a logic of inclusion vs. a logic of exclusion.  Today those logics are manipulated to the point of absurdity, as evidenced by Indian activists claiming to be a People with a (kin-based) line of descent stretching back some 9,000 years. 

   

Let's allow that the rhetoric about 'the ancient one' is eyewash plain and simple as you say. Isn't it possible that these terms were deployed because sentimentalist nonsense of this kind is the only language that the wider society will listen to?

 

Here I think you’re definitely onto something.  Indian elders and activists may have two “stories” – never, of course, possible to untangle neatly.  Elders may well believe some version of that “sentimentalist nonsense” of The Ancient One.  After all, plenty of muh fellah Amuricuns believe that God is some old white guy with a long beard, decked out in a bed sheet and kicking back on a big, fluffy cloud.  Activists, on the other hand, may employ the same rhetoric with a much sharper, and political, focus.  I’ve been discussing the KM business with an archaeologist friend and former colleague, who provided a telling anecdote: 

 

“Years ago one of our graduate students here was a Sioux from Alberta.  I once asked him why native bands were so hostile to archaeology, since archaeologists had often provided useful information in their land claims disputes.  His response had nothing to do with spirituality or history.  It was purely cynical.  Archaeological research was seen as a handy target that allowed bands to "stick it to the Man", since the real powers (governments etc) didn't really care about archaeology and would sacrifice it to make it seem like they were sympathetic to native problems.” 

 

I also showed him the photo of the Indian blackjack dealer with my caption, to which he replied:

 

The limitless wisdom of The Ancient One is "The House Always Wins!"

 

Yep, at least with archaeologists, the House is on a roll.   

All this makes me think that the job of social / cultural anthropology in this situation is different from that of the archaeologist. The anthropologist's role is to work out why the politics of 'sovereign nations' like the Colville reserve is coalescing this way. To do that we would presumably have to cut past the perhaps justifiable indignation with local 'mediocrities' to looking at how the U.S. state works, how identity politics fits into that and what is causing the current outbreak of 'culture wars' in the U.S. public sphere.

    In the essay I do try to situate the technical issues of archeology, genomics, legality, bureaucracy within a cultural critique of the culture of race or identity politics.  Hence, “Kennewick Man and the Culture of Race.”  While brief, my argument is that the drama of KM unfolds in the context of an identity politics which embraces victimization as the defining feature of one’s persona and group membership.  Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!  In a too brief historical sketch I suggest that racial/ethnic movements have undergone drastic change in the last half-century, from taking proto-revolutionary action to demanding protection from the very group perceived as the oppressor.  From the Black Panthers to Black Lives Matter.  I’ve found a lot to criticize here, for the ascriptive basis of social identity smacks of racism, in fact, is racism.  Hence my sharp criticism of the use of the metaphor of “blood.”  Now, we have an accompaniment to that:  identity is not only in your blood, but in your genes, taken not just as biological markers but as carriers of what I can only describe as a racial (and racist) history.  One’s victimhood is not a simple product of one’s environment or even one’s history, but is actually encoded in one’s gene’s.  It is epigenetic; your genes remember past trauma.  Jung would have loved this.  So, readers of Indian Country Today are now invited to send away for a pamphlet on this discovery. 

 

 

 

Trauma May Be Woven Into DNA of Native Americans

Intergenerational historic trauma is real

 https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/news/native-news/trauma-may-b...

  

My ungenerous  take on all this: blood + genes = racism X 2. 

These kinds of mobilizations are driven by a social process where the only social advantages are cash advantages and the best route to these is 'class action' type litigation. The effect is extreme formalizatoin of group identity claims around the 'special case' : the status of identifiable 'victim' predominates over demands made for social resources as a fellow citizen, as a fellow human being. It is what corporations want: the reduction of civil society and the public sphere to lawyers fees and lobbying. Hence the absence of irony, humour or a sense of ambiguity when it comes to laying claims to identity.

Why has the nation at large embraced these cultural difference claims with such fervour? Because noone wants to pay the bill (i.e. the taxes) that would go with an inclusive, human scale, politics. So, special pleading and winner-takes-all rules.

Huon,

    Two questions, one comment:

Q1) What do you make of the concept of “intergenerational trauma,” based on an application of epigenetics to Indians’ present-day conditions”?  Is there a racial memory?

Q2) I’m puzzled.  I take it that a cosmopolitan perspective embraces the “inclusivity” you identify as a good thing for society.  How does that square with identity politics? Particularly an identity politics of the kind practiced by American Indians, based as it is on the metaphor of blood and the epigenetics of “inherited pain.”  In the U. S. Indian policy has gone in the direction of increased fragmentation, with hundreds of “sovereign” tribes recognized – some of which have a handful or a few dozen members.  How can the notion of sovereignty be stretched to include the “tribe” consisting of an Augustine Indian woman and her kids – even though, you gotta love it, her “tribe” has its own casino? 

C1) Tribal sovereignty has been an on-again, off-again policy of the U. S. Congress and courts.  For some time, an enlightened view was that reservations were a terrible idea, quasi-concentration camps where poverty, violence, substance abuse were endemic.  The solution adopted was to integrate reservation residents into the wider society (inclusivity?), so Indians were encouraged and given incentives to settle in towns and cities.  Then that policy was abandoned and reservations were back on the table, only with increased sovereignty, i.e., greater separation (and non-inclusivity?).  How did all this shake out?  It’s a real mixed bag.  Today more Indians live off-reservation than on, and Los Angeles and New York City, if counted among reservation populations, would be in the top ten (again, of hundreds of tribes). 

    There’s a joke touching on this, which you may well not appreciate.  It’s from a Joseph Wambaugh cop novel (one of the very best ethnographers of America).  Three L.A. cops have just arrested a guy who threatened them with a knife.  They subdue him and put him in the back of a squad car.  He yells out to a cop standing there, “Hey, you can’t do this to me! I’m a Native American!” The cop walks over to the car, leans in the window, and say, “Oh yeah? Which casino?” 

I don't like the word 'identity' at all, but if we are going to use it analytically, it strikes me that identity has two forms: open and closed. The current culture wars in the U.S. are 'wars' because there is a premium on making identity inviolable, unambiguous and irreproachable. In contrast, there is some space in a working civil society for identity claims that are open, allow of some ambiguity and which contribute further to the opening of the public sphere to more and different voices/possibilities. Closed identity politics which ignores the field of social possibility -- for example when it ignores the initial situation of gross inequality some people experience vis-a-vis social goods like money, education etc. -- in favour of making fundamentalist claims and unrealistic demands; that kind of identitarianism is toxic.

I don't really 'get' the joke -- I suppose the idea is that his claim to historic disadvantage, already undermined by waving a knife around, is further suspect because of all the money splashing around in the casinos?

In a way, I am equally puzzled about what you are aiming at with this piece. I can't really buy the idea that you are so upset with a handful of Native Americans claiming back some bones from which the DNA evidence has already been gathered. The fact that Native Americans run casinos is only a big deal if you have a fixed view of what Native American identity is supposed to be like. Given the way American society works, the casinos look like a moderately good solution from a social point of view.

epigenetics, like genetics is serious science. What use it gets put to is another question.

 

Explaining the joke (always an unhappy task): A stranger asserts a claim to being Native American, in the middle of Los Angeles, where over two hundred languages are spoken by at least as many groups that would claim some sort of separate “identity” (that word again).  In the metropolis the most prominent fixture of American Indian-ness is the necklace of casinos on tiny reservations that surround it.  Hence the cop’s quite reasonable, admittedly cynical question, “Oh yeah?  Which casino?”. 

 

Epigenetics.  Yes, it’s a science, just as genetics is.  In the case at hand the use to which it is put is formulating a concept/ideological talking point of “intergenerational trauma.” You haven’t said what you think of that use.  Racial memory, or what? 

I’m puzzled by your puzzlement.  As a piece of cultural analysis, the essay seeks to use a fairly prominent event, the KM controversy, as a lens or probe to examine its meaning and impact in the wider society (history of race relations, the culture of race, identity politics, biotechnology).  The KM controversy is about much more than “a handful of Native Americans claiming back some bones from which the DNA evidence has already been gathered.”  At the end of the piece I mention a half-dozen other major Paleoamerican finds that were surrendered to various tribal activists before archeologists had a chance to conduct any sort of analysis.  There are numerous others; it is becoming settled practice to honor Indian claims even when ancient remains are found off government or tribal land.  As Douglas Owsley argues, this is a frontal assault on science and is bound to have a negative effect on all future archeological research in the Americas.  I’m of the old school that regards archeology as part of an anthropology that searches for the widest and deepest meaning of the phenomenon of humanity.  Interestingly, the old school is now being recast, back to its holistic roots.  After what I regard as the excesses of interpretive anthro, postmodernism, the linguistic turn, and the ontological turn, the development is welcome news.  An able spokesperson for this view is Stephen Reyna, in Starry Nights:

 

Importantly, if anthropology is to be a big galaxy discipline, it needs additional observational techniques other than those of ethnography—especially those of history, semantics, archeology, and the life sciences.

 

Speaking of galaxies and such, I think the Indian activists who, with the full weight and authority of the federal government, silenced the voice of KM, are cut from the same small-minded, repressive cloth as the holy fathers who silenced Galileo.  They deserve the contempt of thinking persons.  

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