Friday, June 19, 2015

Kennewick Man Is Native, and Probably Rlated to the Colville Tribe

A plastic casting of some of the most contentious bones in recent history.  From the New York Times
New DNA analysis indicates that Native groups were right all along to claim Kennewick Man as an ancestor.  Accordingly Native groups have referred to the remains as the Ancient One.  Not only is Kennewick Man Native (and therefore more correctly referred to as the Ancient One, though I use Kennewick Man in this post to further highlight the way that scientists have exacerbated an already toxic situation), he is even related to the groups that currently live in the area he was found.  Kennewick Man actually serves to prove the serious time depth of Native claims to indigenous-ness and connection to territory.  And Kennewick Man also serves as an example of the ways that ongoing archaeological arrogance toward Natives can continue to create conflict that serves no one.

Leaving aside the further demonstration of the silliness of trying to use hard and fast racial phenotypes on ancient remains (particularly with the recent finding of the phenotypically similar far more ancient girl in Mexico whose DNA is related to the vast majority of modern Natives), these DNA results just go to show that the arguments against treating Kennewick Man as a Native American were bunk. The archaeologist in me always wishes for as much knowledge to be gained as possible, but the archaeologist in me also feels like the kind of animosity created by the actions of Scientists toward Natives in this case only serves to make working together harder.

Archaeology in the US has a long history of stealing bones, and attempting to use archaeology to claim that Natives do not have claim to their own history and land. Episodes like the Kennewick Man saga only serve to deepen the mistrust and rancor between archaeology and Natives. As an archaeologist who wants to work WITH Native groups, this just feels like bad behavior that makes it harder for me to do my job, and harder for my profession as a whole to repair our relationship with Natives.

Now after decades of fighting, it is absolutely proven that Kennewick Man is Native, and appears to be related to extant local groups (we don't know for sure because they bad blood between Natives and scientists is so bad in this country that we don't even have decent genetic data on current populations). So in the end, the arguments that scientists used to get around NAGPRA turned out to be bogus, but those scientists did manage to hold back any meaningful forward progress in the relationship between Archaeology/Anthropology and Native Americans for a couple more decades.

The scientist in me always longs for more data, but the scientist who wants to actually do meaningful science in the future feels like the Kennewick Man saga has done more damage than revealed knowledge.

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