The Japan Times
October 28, 2000

U. S. judge reactivates lawsuit around 'Kennewick Man'

SEATTLE (AFP-Jiji) A federal judge has reactivated a 4-year-old lawsuit over the 9,300-year-old "Kennewick Man" skeleton and set in motion a case that could redefine what constitutes a "Native American."

At a status conference Wednesday in Portland, Ore., Magistrate John Jelderks questioned the Justice Department's position that any human remains or artifacts that predate Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World in 1492 are, by definition, "Native American."

Under that theory, even viking remains from their five or more voyages to North America around the year 1000 would be considered "Native American" and given to modern-day tribes for reburial.

Jelderks told lawyers for the five tribes who claim the ancient remains as those of their ancestor to consider whether they agree with the government's definition, saying it "might have implications beyond this case."

The Kennewick Man — unearthed in the shallows of the Columbia River in 1996 in Kennewick, Wash. — is one of the oldest skeletons ever found in North America.

The skeleton's skull has features dissimilar to those of modern native Indians.

Anthropologists who studied the bones for the Interior Department have said the Kennewick Man appeared to have the strongest connection to populations from Polynesia and South Asia.

The discovery of the skeleton could support newer theories that the continent's earliest arrivals came not by a land bridge between Russia and Alaska — a long-held theory — but by boat or some other route.

In a conflict involving politics, science and religion, eight anthropologists, including two from the Smithsonian Institute, sued for the right to study the remains.

But the Umatilla, Yakama, Colvilles, Wanapum and Nez Perce tribes say testing done on the remains is enough, and they want to rebury him.