Thursday, November 08, 2007

Next Kennewick Man will need protection

The court decision to allow scientists to study the ancient skeleton known as Kennewick Man has aided humankind's quest for knowledge.

Unfortunately, it also spawned a congressional effort to change federal law to keep science from learning anything about the next Kennewick Man.

U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings is trying to thwart the move with proposed legislation of his own. Good for him.

With so many unanswered questions about man's future, we've never had a greater need to understand our past.

The Kennewick Man ruling, upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2004, went against Northwest Indian tribes, which hoped the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act would prevent scientific examination of the skeleton.

The court ruled Congress had intended NAGPRA to apply to remains only if a significant relationship could be shown to present-day tribes.

That's an appropriate interpretation of the law, one that protects the interests of science and still respects Indian culture.

Good riddance to archaeologists robbing the graves where the grandparents of contemporary Indians were buried.

And thank goodness for efforts to get human remains and cultural artifacts back to their original tribes.

But the Indians' claim to the 9,300-year-old Kennewick Man is based on the belief that no one other than tribal ancestors could have been in the Columbia Basin back then.

That can't be proved and may not be true.