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12 August 2006
Bill would allow study of ancient American remains

A federal law governing protection of American Indian graves would be amended to allow scientific study of ancient remains discovered on federal lands if the remains have not been tied to a current tribe, under a bill proposed by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash. The bill marks the latest step in a dispute sparked by the 1996 discovery of Kennewick Man, one of the oldest and most complete skeletons ever found in North America.
     Indian tribes and researchers battled over rights to the 9,300-year-old remains for nine years before a federal court sided with the scientists, allowing them to study the bones. Hastings said his bill counters efforts in the Senate that would prevent ancient remains from being studied in the future. He cited a case in Nevada in which tribal leaders have filed suit against the government to rebury the Spirit Cave Man remains, believed to be more than 10,000 years old.
     "My proposal protects the rights of present-day Native Americans to claim the remains of their ancestors when found on federal lands," Hastings said. "At the same time, it reiterates that in cases of truly ancient human remains -- such as Kennewick Man -- Congress does not intend to block scientific study."
     Hastings is offering his fix in response to a proposed amendment that scientists say would allow federally recognized tribes to claim ancient remains even if they cannot prove a link to a current tribe. Matthew Tomaskin, legislative liaison for the Yakama Nation, said he was familiar with the proposal, but added that he wished Hastings had consulted the tribes.

Sources: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Associated Press,  Yahoo! News (10 August 2006)

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