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Northwest Tribes Push One More Law To Rebury Kennewick Man

Brittney Tatchell
Smithsonian Institution -
File photo of clay facial reconstruction of a 9,000-year-old skeleton known as ''Kennewick Man'' or ''The Ancient One.''

Several Northwest tribes including the Umatilla in northeast Oregon and the Yakama in central Washington state are in Washington D.C. this week. They’re asking for the passage of one more law to help rebury the remains known as "Kennewick Man" or the "Ancient One."

The 9,000-year-old skeleton has been under study and in Seattle’s Burke Museum lockers above ground for decades. It’s one of the oldest and most complete skeletons ever found in North America.

Federal law already says Native American remains have to be returned to the tribes of their origin.

In April, Senator Patty Murray along with Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon and Michael Crapo of Idaho have introduced a bill that would return the skeleton to tribes and attached it to a water resources act that’s under consideration.

Tribes are in D.C. to lobby for that language. They say it’s needed because they want to deter another decade-long court battle.

For years a group of scientists has argued in court that they don’t have to turn over the remains. They say Kennewick Man isn’t related to Northwest tribes. But recent DNA evidence has challenged that theory.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced in April that they accepted that evidence. Northwest lawmakers are pushing to repatriate “The Ancient One,” or Kennewick Man, to tribes.

A major scientific collection is due out soon from Smithsonian anthropologist Doug Owsley, whose team of nationally-known scientists were some of the original claimants that blocked Kennewick Man’s reburial in a nearly 10-year legal battle.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.