Who owns America's history?.
On the morning of July 28, 1996, two men enjoying the annual hydroplane races held on the Columbian River in Washington State unearthed a skull and a nearly complete skeleton 10 feet off the rivers shore line. (1) The anthropologist, DR James Chatters who first studied the remains has dubbed the skeleton "Kennewick Man". The Native Americans refer to him as "The Ancient One". The remains are that of a man who lived between 9,200-9,600 years ago. (2) This amazing discovery is now at the center of a national controversy over the interpretation of the Native American Graves Protection and Reparation Act, also known as NAGRPA.
NAGPRA applies when human remains and funerary objects are recovered from federal or Indian land. It states that ownership or control of Native American human remains or objects shall be given to lineal descendents of the Native American or Indian tribe on whose land such objects or remains were discovered or Indian tribe which has the closest cultural affiliation and states a claim for such remains or objects to the study of the remains. (3) A coalition of five Native American tribes claim Kennewick Man as an ancestor and have requested that his bones be returned for proper burial under NAGRPA. (4) In response to this claim several prominent scientists have sued for the right to study the bones. They argue that the skeleton is too old to be affiliated to any one people and that "Repatriation will deprive scholars of any opportunity or right to study this treasure", "Study of the skeleton would be of a major benefit to the United States"(5).
Vice chairman Jerry Menick, of the tribal council of the Yakama Indian Nation responded by stating, "Let the anthropologists study their own bones". (6). This set in motion what has become a showdown between the quest for scientific knowledge and respect for the religious beliefs of the Mid-Columbia's Indians.