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Northwest Tribes Know Exactly How They Want To Return The Ancient One To Earth

Anna King
Northwest News Network
Armand Minthorn, is a tribal councilman and spiritual leader for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation in northeast Oregon. Minthorn has fought for two decades to rebury Kennewick Man.

The tribes call Kennewick Man the Ancient One. And Armand Minthorn has been one of the most visible Northwest Native Americans fighting to rebury those bones. Now, a new law will hand the bones over to tribes.

Minthorn is a Umatilla Reservation tribal councilman and spiritual leader who has fought a two-decade battle for Kennewick Man’s remains. He said the Ancient One will be buried by hundreds of tribal elders in the morning.

That’s because it’s taboo to bury Native American dead at night because they could make mourners sick.

“Nighttime is when there are unsettled spirits, and that’s when they move is at night,” Minthorn said. “And if they hear somebody crying or hurting, they’re going to come and want to see.”

Settling the Ancient One’s spirit is why many tribal people have fought to see his bones reburied. Over this 20 year fight, Minthorn said he and others have had to wade through 20 years of misunderstandings, ignorance and pure racism -- even from universities and scientists.

“It was those radical people that told us that we had no right, that our religion was fake and that we were no different than Indians on TV,” Minthorn said.

Minthorn has fought against science for so long -- he agrees it’s ironic that science has now returned Kennewick Man back to the tribes. The scientists who legally won the right to study Kennewick Man after a 10-year legal battle, said the skeleton wasn’t from southeast Washington, or related to current tribes.

But new DNA studies in Europe, by another scientist, linked the bones most closely with Northwest tribes that are still here today.

“How fast and changing science is,” Minthorn said. “And it’s just amazing today what science does, and what people can do with science.”

Educating outsiders why it’s so culturally important for the tribes to rebury the skeleton has been hard. Minthorn sees little difference between Kennewick Man and the tribal elders he knows by name today. He said they all deserve respect in burial and in memory.

“This loss that we all go through when we lose an elder only inspires us to go on and go forward,” Minthorn said. “Go on and go forward. Because each of us, whether we’re Indian or non-Indian, we do the best that we can to carry something with us from a relative, an elder, a friend that has passed on.”

It’s been a hard job speaking up for these remains for 20 years. But Minthorn said when that morning comes when they bury Kennewick Man’s bones -- it won’t be the last time he sees the Ancient One. All Minthorn’s ancestors will be waiting when his own burial morning comes.

“Those people are lined up. That land is all lit up,” he said. “The land is making the most wonderful sound. And that gold light is making the most wonderful sound.”

Minthorn believes everything you do in life is written, and judged. The Ancient One is almost at rest. It’s almost written.

He’s almost back to earth.

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.