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16 April 2005
Scientists protest bill over Kennewick Man

Scientists hoping to study the ancient skeleton known as Kennewick Man are protesting legislation they say could block their efforts. They say a two-word amendment to a bill on American Indians would allow federally recognized tribes to claim ancient remains even if they cannot prove a link to a current tribe. Scientists fear that the bill, if enacted, could end up overturning a federal appeals court ruling that allows them to study the 9,300-year-old skeleton, one of the oldest ever found in North America.
     The skeleton was discovered in 1996 along the Columbia River near Kennewick, Wash., and has been the focus of a bitter nine-year fight. The scientists successfully opposed a similar bill in the last Congress, but the bill has been revived in this Congress by the panel's new chairman. "What they are trying to do is to change the statute so that it comes up with the absurd result that tribes can now claim skeletons to which they have no cultural connection," said Alan Schneider, a Portland, Ore., attorney for the scientists. It is far from certain what tribe, if any, Kennewick Man would be assigned to, Schneider said: "He may not even be Indian at all." The skeleton was found to have some Caucasian features, suggesting groups other than Asians may have migrated to the continents thousands of years ago.
     Rob Roy Smith, an attorney for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington state, said the bill would apply to future archaeological finds and would strengthen the case of tribes across the country that want to claim and bury ancient remains. "This is a congressional effort to right a wrong ... that was identified through the Kennewick Man case," Smith said, but it would not affect the case itself. The disputed bones are being stored at the Burke Museum in Seattle.
     Four Northwest tribes - the Umatilla, Yakama, Nez Perce and Colville - had claimed they were entitled to the ancient bones under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The tribes wanted the bones reburied without any scientific studies.

Source Associated Press, Newsday.com (11 April 2005)

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