Ancient One / Kennewick Man
Over the last two days, a small group of scientists argued in federal court that their right to study our ancestors is greater than our rights to protect those ancestors and the gravesites in which they were buried.
When the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act became law in 1990, many scientists were afraid they might lose control over collections of Native American human remains. NAGPRA didn't take those remains from the scientists, it only required those scientists to work with the tribes, with the recognition that the tribes have legal and ethical rights to protect their ancestors.
NAGPRA restored to tribes the basic human right of protecting our ancestors -- a right that has been ignored by scientists for generations. This litigation is a direct attack on those tribal rights.
If the plaintiff scientists' claims prevail, the tribes lose the ability to protect the graves of our ancestors. Once again, tribal rights would take a backseat to intellectual curiosity.
The tribes are not urging an end to science, only that science be guided by some ethical boundaries respecting the beliefs and rights of the people they are purporting to study.
This case is about fundamental human rights, not about science versus religion. Our Tribal government employs scientists and actively engages in scientific inquiry in pursuit of natural resources management and wildlife recovery. We do not believe science is bad, only that the path the plaintiff scientists have chosen, to study our ancestors without working with us is wrong.
Over the years we have built relationships with museum and university scientists in the pursuit of protecting our own heritage and developing an accurate scientific portrayal of who we are. This lawsuit seeks to destroy those relationships by giving complete control over Native American ancestral human remains to those scientists.
All knowledge is acquired at a price and we argue that scientists may not appropriate Indian ancestors over the objections of the culturally affiliated tribes. The plaintiffs, in effect, argue that NAGPRA does not require them to work with tribes but that they have the unconditional right to study and destroy Native American human remains.
The Department of the Interior based its decision of our cultural affiliation to the Ancient One upon the entire administrative record. That record spanned 22,000 pages and included hard data on anthropological, archaeological, ethnographic, linguistic, oral histories and geographic evidence. Interior relied upon many respected scientists from within and outside the government to reach the conclusion that the Ancient One is related to the tribal claimants by a preponderance of the evidence.
The plaintiff scientists dispute our oral histories and the geographic evidence relied upon by Interior. The evidence indicates we have always been here, yet they can offer no proof that the evidence is wrong, only that they disagree with it.
In the end it does not matter what theory you subscribe to, whether the original occupants of this hemisphere arrived 20,000 years ago, 60,000 years ago or whether they were always here, each is only a theory. The plaintiffs want to test their theories on our ancestors to solve a puzzle -- a puzzle they think they can answer by digging up our ancestors.
These eight scientists do not represent a majority of anthropologists or archaeologists, they only represent a small fraction of scientists in the field. Many archaeological organizations around the world recognize the rights of aboriginal people to protect their ancestors. It is time for the plaintiff scientists to move into the 21st Century and work with tribes rather than to continue believing they can disturb our ancestors without our permission.
In this we are fighting for the same rights as any other people
-- the right to protect the graves of those that have come before
Other Ancient One information
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