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. 

 

 

Views: 167

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Hi Lee,

This is a sorry tale, indeed. I couldn't resist posting this screengrab of the results I got when I looked up Kennewick to see what was going on at the moment. Seems like a case of plus ca change:

A second more serious thought, borrowed from a 1936 essay by Bronislaw Malinowski:

"Our present civilization is undoubtedly passing through a very severe, perhaps a critical, stage of maladjustment. The abuse of legal and administrative power; the inability to create lasting conditions of peace; the recrudescence of aggressive militarism and magical trickery; the torpor of true religion and the assumption of a religious garb by doctrines of racial or national superiority or the gospel of Marx - all this shows that, while we have become the masters of inanimate nature, we have connived at the complete enslavement of man by machine. The greatest need of to-day is to establish a balance between the stupendous power of natural science and its applications and the self-inflicted backwardness of social science and the consequent impotence of social engineering. To repeat a truism just mentioned, we have allowed the machine to overpower man. One of the reasons of this is that we have learned to understand, hence to respect and to handle the mechanism. But we have failed to develop the really scientific spirit in humanism."

 

Huon,

    Malinowski was depressingly right about the big picture of contemporary life.  The ensuing decades, though, have served up a couple of developments that I’m sure would have added to his dire outlook.  For example, when he laments “the assumption of a religious garb by doctrines of racial or national superiority,” he may not have anticipated how far an “indigenous people,” i.e. American Indians, could parlay a fatuous nativism into real political power and bucks.   The hucksterism of “The Ancient One” has proven strong enough to overturn federal law (NAGPRA) and scientific archaeology, which demonstrated the gross inaccuracies of the Indian’s account.  In, I think it was “Religion as a Cultural System,” Geertz wrote that the anthropology of religion will have come of age when we begin to produce accounts of the hypocrisy of our ethnographic subjects.  The most depressing aspect of the KM saga is that it vindicates racism: one Indian people who have been put on the land by the Creator and who share one blood.  When neo-Nazis spout the same vile propaganda, we go crazy.  But dress it up with some feathers and paint and add some Hollywood dialogue and, hey presto! Bring the Ancient One home. 

 

LEE: "he may not have anticipated how far an “indigenous people,” i.e. American Indians, could parlay a fatuous nativism into real political power and bucks.   The hucksterism of “The Ancient One” has proven strong enough to overturn federal law (NAGPRA) and scientific archaeology, which demonstrated the gross inaccuracies of the Indian’s account.  In, I think it was “Religion as a Cultural System,” Geertz wrote that the anthropology of religion will have come of age when we begin to produce accounts of the hypocrisy of our ethnographic subjects."

That seems true as far as it goes, but I wonder if by dilating just one instance of American hucksterism as if it were a special case, this may simply amount to burying our heads in the sand (while still maybe annoying indigenous rights activists, supposing any are tuning in). Looking for the same paper again (yes, I managed to lose my own reference) I found another version where Malinowski puts the issues in an even more strident way: the current situation is not just maladjusted it is 'putrid'.

But here he is also violently disposed to intellectuals who are 'satisfied with nihilistic prophecies of decay and downfall'. Though I wouldnt go that far in describing your version of the Kennewick goings on, it does raise some questions. Amongst these is as follows: there is a kind of subdued message that all these venal dimwits should have listened to the scientists rather than rush off on their absurdist carnival. The result has been a Loss to Science. But, this seems to raise another issue -- in what kind of society do people take their understanding of the world from scientists? One might think of a mid-Twentieth century state where people saw science, democracy and social betterment as all one piece, but that state no longer exists.

Science in America has been hived out to big technology corporations (amongst which are the companies that create the DNA archives) who have little or no interest in the connection between democracy, social improvement and scientific knowledge. That delicate set of linkages is broken, amongst other factors, by the fact that these corporations won't pay any tax if they can possibly avoid it. The government has given Native American reservations rights to run casinos as an alternative to providing basic government services and to a politics of inclusion that might have pulled those people into a wider democratic project -- all this because the government doesn't have the tax base to provide these services: the real power lies elsewhere. So, to cut a long story short, while we can argue that locals should have listened to the scientists, doesn't the reason they did not come down to a general break down in the contract between people and government rather than to local idiocy as such?

Here we are leaving aside the problematic relation between scientific fact and questions of moral meaning and consequence. it is an indisputable fact that General Lee owned slaves and fought (inter alia) to maintain his right to do so. It follows thus that we ought to remove representations of General Lee and his like from public places... Unfortunately, the QE is not so D. Scientists know that saying Kennewick Man was an indigenous Umatilla is anachronistic at best. It follows that Kennewick Man does not belong to the Umatilla it belongs to Science... Unfortunately not.

In a famous case in Britain, Alder Hey Hospital stored thousands of body parts, including tissue from foetuses and babies that had died, so these would be available for scientific research. When families, in particular of the babies involved, found out this had happened without their consent they were horrified. As far as was possible the hospital was required to return the body parts to parents for burial. It strikes me that the demand for the return of these body parts, and the concern behind it, was no more, nor less, reasonable than the Umatilla wanting their rather distant relative back. 

Huon,

    You raise important, substantive questions, a couple too far-reaching to take up here: 

-- What Malinowski may have meant by “nihilistic prophesies of decay and downfall,” and, following on, what was his understanding of “nihilism” as social thought and philosophical position.  Here I’ll just note the paradox that a doctrine of the meaninglessness of life certainly has a lot of complex meanings / interpretations attached to it.  But, a bridge too far in this discussion. 

--  The big picture question of how science fits into a rapidly changing society dominated by multinational corporations and big government. 

    Here I’d like to keep to specifics, as my essay attempts to do. 

    Regarding your most concrete point, at the end of your comment: 

 

“In a famous case in Britain, Alder Hey Hospital stored thousands of body parts, including tissue from foetuses and babies that had died, so these would be available for scientific research. When families, in particular of the babies involved, found out this had happened without their consent they were horrified. As far as was possible the hospital was required to return the body parts to parents for burial. It strikes me that the demand for the return of these body parts, and the concern behind it, was no more, nor less, reasonable than the Umatilla wanting their rather distant relative back.” 

 

I rejected analogies of this kind in the essay, noting that NAGPRA was explicitly meant to protect Indian groups from unscrupulous graverobbers and collectors who trafficked in historical burials, i.e., ones that could be identified with existing Indian communities.  But, the crucial point here, is that “cultural affinity” peters out after a short time, two or three centuries at most.  KM is 8500 years old.  The concept of “relative” thus becomes entirely ideological and, in the case of the Umatilla spokesperson I quoted, pure hucksterism.  The aggrieved families in the Alder Hey Hospital case have nothing in common with the KM situation. 

    While the role of Big Science in our world is terribly complex, here I’ve wanted to make a case for what might be called Little Science, that is archaeology and by extension the “community” (if such exists) of anthropologists as a whole.  KM is an exceptional case in that archaeologists managed to hold off the tribes, bureaucrats and politicians long enough to do a masterful study of the skeleton – which invalidated one-by-one the specious claims of activists and complicit officials.  That has been impossible to do in most cases, with more and more important discoveries immediately being turned over to the know-nothing tribes for secret reburial.  If anthropology takes as its purview the human career, isn’t it crucial to learn as much as we can about a process – the peopling of the Americas – that comprises a major chapter in that story?  The tribes with their $30 billion a year in casino revenues have organized themselves into a formidable opposition to that project.  Here we as anthropologists aren’t required to posit Science or Truth as abstract values; we only need to defend the right to know, to pursue free inquiry – or stand aside and let the tribes continue their campaign of willful ignorance.  The implications of standing aside are set forth by Douglas Owsley, co-author of the KM monograph and Division Head for Physical Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution (interviewed on the Nova program of the Public Broadcasting System).   

 

“But this case is much larger than Kennewick Man and the plaintiff scientists who have asked to study him. Other old skeletons have been found and new discoveries of old bones will occur. If Kennewick Man had been reburied without study, and if other ancient skeletons and future discoveries follow him into the ground, I'm afraid the field of American physical anthropology that studies ancient populations will slowly die. New researchers, seeing only restricted areas of investigation here, are likely to turn their attention to other countries. In the future, then, we may learn a great deal about ancient migration patterns and populations in South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe, but North America may become a question mark—an unknowable area that leaves a great gap in the total picture.” 

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/first/claimowsl.html

I agree that, from a liberal humanist point of view, the situation with the Kennewick skeleton is a terrible mess. But unfortunately I don't think the claim that Science has a right regardless of the social situation really stands up.

The relationship between Science and the rest of Society is part of a contract that has to take into account the fact that (a) there is no pure science unadulterated by ethical concerns (b) Scientific archaeologists aren't the only ones telling stories about the place of human beings in the landscape. At no point in U.S. federal history has any agency tried to include the Umatilla in a national project in a way that would make them want to conform to the kind of inclusive scientifically grounded narrative about the 'peopling of the Americas' you describe: let's face it -- giving them and other groups the right to set up casinos was simply a way of erasing the previous history of extermination. 

So, just to play advocate for the other side for a moment:

To me the comparison with Alder Hey is clear enough -- from a scientifc point of view there is no connection between a few scraps of tissue and the person of a child. The tissue did have significant use for science. The demand that it should be buried was, from a scientific point of view, simply pandering to a superstition: we all clip our nails, cut our hair etc and unless we have a strongly neurotic disposition we think no more about it. Except that the point of disconnection between person and physical being is fundamentally ambiguous and the organs in question included parts full of symbolism like the heart and so on.

I don't think the Umatilla claims are so different to the 'Alder Hey' case. But they were part of a different kind of story. Initially archaeologists were wowed by the idea that Kennewick man was a totally distinct human type -- more closely related to Polynesians/East Asians than contemporary Amerindians. Wasn't there a tiny element of American hucksterism built into this 'discovery' of an unheard of ancient visitor by the archaeologists themselves? More Thor Heyerdahl than Mary Leakey we might say. As it turned out (the DNA), this claim, based on skeletal morphology and racial typologies 'caucasoid traits' etc., was proved totally spurious. But it did have the effect of recasting the story of the 'peopling of the Americas' in a way that would have further marginalised folk like the Umatilla. The Umatilla, after all, turn out to be a lot more closely related to Kennewick man than are the U.S. archaeologists - but the latter wanted initially to tell a different, let us say 'more sensational' tale. I am not trying to sling mud at the archaeologists, just to point out that the story of these events can be given quite a different emphasis.

Is it demonstrated that the Umatilla are 'hucksters'? Arguably, insisting that the remains be returned bolstered the Umatilla view that they were a definable group. So they had some motivation, but I am not sure cui bono is fully answered; what kind of real substantial benefit did Umatilla gain from all this? The newspaper copy is indeed absolute nonsense as you show; a meretricious way-station between applauding the (mendaciously presented) science and the totally contrary Umatilla views about the relationship of people and landscape. The DNA evidence does generally vindicate the Umatilla view that they are descended from the 'first people'. The paradox that they wouldn't have discovered that at all if they had had their wish of burying the remains immediately without study is well taken. Even so, and however much we respect scientific method, we have to accept that the story of the 'peopling of the Americas' is just that, a story, and as such it can be told in radically different ways by different people. And these different stories are motivated.

 

    First, to specifics: 

 

“Initially archaeologists were wowed by the idea that Kennewick man was a totally distinct human type -- more closely related to Polynesians/East Asians than contemporary Amerindians. Wasn't there a tiny element of American hucksterism built into this 'discovery' of an unheard of ancient visitor by the archaeologists themselves? More Thor Heyerdahl than Mary Leakey we might say. As it turned out (the DNA), this claim, based on skeletal morphology and racial typologies 'caucasoid traits' etc., was proved totally spurious. But it did have the effect of recasting the story of the 'peopling of the Americas' in a way that would have further marginalised folk like the Umatilla. The Umatilla, after all, turn out to be a lot more closely related to Kennewick man than are the U.S. archaeologists - but the latter wanted initially to tell a different, let us say 'more sensational' tale. I am not trying to sling mud at the archaeologists, just to point out that the story of these events can be given quite a different emphasis.”

 

Here it is important to note an inconvenient and puzzling fact about the earliest Americans: their physical morphology differed significantly from that of contemporary Indians.  They seem to have been taller (although the sample size is less than one would wish) and their faces were smaller while their skulls were longer and narrower. 

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/dna-12000-year-old-ske... 

Without reliable DNA data at their disposal, archaeologists suggested that KM’s cranial morphology linked him to East Asian or Pacific groups.  Interestingly, a recent DNA study has linked some Amazonian groups to Australian aborigines.  This supports an emerging view of early migrants following very different routes (land/sea, north/south) which I discuss in the essay. 

“The prevailing theory is that the first Americans arrived in a single wave, and all Native American populations today descend from this one group of adventurous founders. But now there’s a kink in that theory. The latest genetic analyses back up skeletal studies suggesting that some groups in the Amazon share a common ancestor with indigenous Australians and New Guineans. The find hints at the possibility that not one but two groups migrated across these continents to give rise to the first Americans.”

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/dna-search-first-ameri...

While you may be correct that there is “a tiny element of American hucksterism” built into the KM study, I do think it remains much more Mary Leakey than Thor Heyerdahl. 

 

Next, into the deep woods:

“I don't think the Umatilla claims are so different to the 'Alder Hey' case. But they were part of a different kind of story.” 

   A different kind of story.  Science, never “unadulterated by ethical concerns,” tells one story.  The Umatilla tell, probably a couple of stories (genuine traditionalists, casino hucksters).  Presumably we intelligent and dispassionate observers are then left to examine all of them and discuss how very diverse human experience is, adrift in an endless sea of words without any real boundaries.  Ah, yes, it’s all so intertextual.  But here’s the implication I see in that perspective: If wildly divergent interpretations of a phenomenon have an equal claim to being meaningful, doesn’t that mean that all are meaningless?  Aren’t we left with a relativistic stew?  Or, since we’ve touched on the subject earlier, isn’t this a pretty good working definition of nihilism?  

LEE: 'Here it is important to note an inconvenient and puzzling fact about the earliest Americans: their physical morphology differed significantly from that of contemporary Indians.  They seem to have been taller (although the sample size is less than one would wish) and their faces were smaller while their skulls were longer and narrower.'

This is indeed very interesting and offers further support for Boas' famous study of 'changes in the bodily form...' proving everyday racist assumptions wrong. The fact that archaeologists went on with the 'if he looks like an Ainu then he probably is an Ainu' view underlines the point that they hadn't learnt Boas' lesson. Simultaneously DNA analysis made a great leap and we now have all these Denisovans and potentially other unknown folk changing the story of who humans are at that level. Luckily noone currently lives in Denisova cave...

DNA analysis, much more powerful scientifically than the morphology studies and so on, is still a double-edged sword. For this kind of purpose it is deeply dependent on contingent factors including, obviously, politics.

But the miring of science and politics is as old as the hills. I don't see why that has to lead to nihilism or relativism, but it obviously means negotiation.

In this case you have a group of scientists who can make a career out of an 'exciting' discovery; something that will upset the apple cart. There is a clear psychological bias that has to be considered -- the more unsettling and sensational the discovery the more newsworthy. At the same time, presenting the local indigenous groups the way you do here ignores their contribution to furthering the debate; since; let's face it, the scientists by themselves have proven not much more than a competent coroner couldn't have shown - bash on the head, mended ribs, a wound from a pointed object. Key evidence  came about because locals provided DNA for analysis. Based on that locals are confirmed as amongst the 'first people' -- from a DNA point of view. But it is provisional... That is science and politics.

Huon,

    Several interesting points.  Let me consider them separately. 

 

    The Denisovans.  Zooming out on the human career brings current debates on ethnic identity (and, as the essay critiques, identity politics) into focus.  Who were the First People back then?  A million years ago there were at least six Homo lines.  How did “we” get to be we?  A very good question.  One thing is known: our past has been dynamic with lots of internal variation.  With some seven billion genetic experiments now walking around the planet, it seems a sure thing that lots more variation is to come – even without the wondrous/scary possibilities of CRISPR.  This was one of my big problems with our old friend, Mark, for whom “the human” seemed to be a fixed, spiritual, inviolate presence.  Considering the changefulness of humanity and, most especially, the current hue and cry denouncing xenophobia everywhere, I find it hugely ironic that small groups of xenophobes – Umatilla and Colville, for example – are given such credence.  How does their bigotry differ from that of white supremacists?  Well, maybe in that they have a lot more money and political power than most rednecks.    

 

 

     “At the same time, presenting the local indigenous groups the way you do here ignores their contribution to furthering the debate. . .”  Doesn’t their contribution consist in silencing debate?  We Umatilla, Colville, etc. are uniquely in possession of the truth; you outsiders are not, so stop interfering and let us silence KM, that “ambassador of the past” by secreting him away in a hidden grave. 

    The genomics lab results are indeed science mired in politics.  Witness the lab first having to edit out (“mask”) non-Indian genetic markers to come up with what is nothing more than an abstract model of a non-existent people.  And the twenty-two Colville who provided samples of their DNA to the researchers?  My strong hunch is that they looked like they just stepped out of an Edward Curtis volume.  And the remaining 9,000+ Colville, the folks living in town or hanging out at one of the three Colville casinos?  Maybe not so much.  

Neither of us disagrees with the idea that the activities at the Genomics lab are science and that you have to do some rigorous science in order to arrive at a rigorous account of reality. But we can't forget either that History, as Levi-Strauss pointed out, is Myth played out on the axis of time. If you're telling a story about the 'peopling of the americas' why are you telling that story and to whom? And if the story isn't inclusive; that is to say it doesn't genuinely take into account the experience and knowledge of the Umatilla, Colville etc. why should they participate in the creation of your narrative. They aren't using violence or, from the evidence, deploying their dogmas to oppress anyone in particular, so perhaps the wider society has to, I believe this is the current expression, 'get over its own sense of entitlement'.

As we know, what the participants in the DNA study 'looked like' is irrelevant to what DNA markers they were carrying - they were either carrying those markers or not. Your 'strong hunch' is a bit reckless, if I may say so.

 

    The story /narrative the tribes tell is summarized in the piece of rubbish by Richard Walker which I dissect at the end of the essay.  The story the archaeologists tell is found in Owsley’s and Jantz’s monograph.  To return to a previous point, we need to ask whether all stories have equal standing in our effort to understand what humanity is all about – or, in this case, what the peopling of the Americas was all about.  I don’t think so; I think there are better and worse accounts of any given social arrangement.  But even if one prefers a radically interpretive view:  this account is as good or bad as any other – there remains a crucial fact to consider.  In the case before us, one story wins: the tribes’.  Mediocrities up and down the line allow them to take the skeleton and secret it away in a hidden grave, thus foreclosing any other possible story to come, from the archaeologists or someone else.  And since bureaucrats increasingly seem ready to ignore the actual language of NAGPRA and turn over ancient human remains to local activist Indians, it is   less and less likely that archaeologists’ stories will be told.  While claiming to honor the past, tribal ideologues insure that its meaning will be rendered by the likes of Richard Walker.  In short, they will have succeeded in extinguishing the past. 

    My remark about Colville physical appearance is grounded in my previous discussion of ethnic intermixture in contemporary Indian groups.  What does it tell us that a Danish lab identifies a particular haplotype in the genome of a Colville individual whose descent is primarily from non-Indians?  In a staggering irony, Indian activists invoke the metaphor of blood (how much “blood” is required for tribal membership?), the very metaphor used by slaveholders in the Caribbean and the U. S. south to oppress blacks.  Isn’t invoking “blood” as a criterion for group membership the basest form of racism?  

In a staggering irony, Indian activists invoke the metaphor of blood (how much “blood” is required for tribal membership?), the very metaphor used by slaveholders in the Caribbean and the U. S. south to oppress blacks.  Isn’t invoking “blood” as a criterion for group membership the basest form of racism?  

Is it so 'ironic'? When the reservations were formed, the rationale was that these were places to put Indians on; people who were defined racially. The reservations were then drastically reduced in size and, in the case of the Colville's, the state built a massive dam on it. How surprising is it, truly, that the inheritors of this situation should use their racial identity to assert claims regarding what they see as their remaining property? The comparison with slave owners etc. is dramatic but the truth is that the larger white society has consistently changed the rules of the game without telling the other players.

Hopefully, revenues from the casinos may go into welfare and education that may see a more mutually beneficial two-way traffic with the wider nation and cooperation with scientists for the greater good. The problem is that identity politics, as this commentator points out are becoming ever more 'paranoid' in the U.S. 

Reply to Discussion

RSS

Translate

OAC Press

@OpenAnthCoop

Events

© 2017   Created by Keith Hart.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service