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Would-Be Kinfolk Vie For ‘Kennewick Man’ Indian Tribes, Others Claim Right To Bury 9,200-Year-Old Bones

Mon., Dec. 23, 1996

You can choose your friends, but not your relatives. And you can be sure “Kennewick Man” - the rugged wandering hunter who died in the Tri-City area some 9,200 years ago - never dreamed who today would claim him as kin.

Here’s some who do:

- Five Indian tribes.

- An obscure religion with links to ancient Vikings.

- A man who wants to bury Kennewick Man in the family cemetery in Zillah.

- The family of the college student who found Kennewick Man’s skull - setting in motion today’s high-profile clash between Native American religion and the science of anthropology.

These would-be relatives are among 12 letters received by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when it asked in September for any Indian tribe believing it had an ancestral right to Kennewick Man to submit a claim.

The corps targeted only Indians in that request because of its interpretation of the federal law that says Indian remains must be returned to a tribe or tribes with the best ancestral claim.

Five tribes submitted a joint claim to take the skeleton and to bury it in accordance with religious practices.

Those tribes are the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Yakama Indian Nation, Wanapum band, Nez Perce Tribe and Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

But the corps also received seven claims from non-Indians - six individuals and one religious group. Those claims came after some anthropologists said the skeleton had some characteristics more European than Native American.

Armand Minthorn, a Umatilla leader and leading advocate for the tribes seeking custody of the skeleton, said he had no comment about the non-Indian claims. But the tribes previously have said anthropological study before burial would violate their religious beliefs.

The Tri-City Herald obtained the 12 claim letters from the corps through a Freedom of Information Act request. The corps blacked out the addresses and phone numbers of the claimants, citing a privacy provision in the FOI act, but the Herald located five of the seven non-Indian claimants.

Here are the non-Indian claims:

The Asatru Folk Assembly, which dates back to pre-Christian times in Europe, and was later practiced by the Vikings, said Steve McNallen of Nevada City, Calif., the assembly’s president.

Asatru stresses spiritual links to ancestors, and has several thousand practitioners in Europe, especially in Iceland. McNallen estimated Asatru has 5,000 to 10,000 practitioners in the United States.

Asatru Folk Assembly wants the skeleton to be tested to see if an ethnic European link can be proven. If so, it wants scientists to study the body before it is buried under Asatru traditions.

McNallen acknowledged the Asatru have never requested custody of any ancient skeletons in North America or Europe.

Richard and Rosemary Thomas of West Richland and their son Will, an engineering student at Gonzaga University who literally stumbled on Kennewick Man last summer while wading in the Columbia River.

The Thomas family’s claim is purely symbolic, said Rosemary Thomas. “It would be a shame to bury (the skeleton) before it is studied in full,” she said.

Kern Gauntt of Pasco, a Flour Daniel Hanford nuclear processes operator, and Linda Parish of Kennewick, a substitute education assistant and wife of Kennewick Councilman Paul Parish.

Both said their claims are symbolic. They want the remains studied before burial.

Daniel Donaldson, address unavailable, who believes the skeleton can be linked to the ancient Celts from either Spain or the British Isles.

He challenges anyone to prove they have a better claim through DNA testing. He wants the skeleton to be studied, and then buried in a Zillah cemetery with five generations of his family.

Patricia Lettau of Richland, a nutritional service technician who believes Kennewick Man could be related to her ancient Scandinavian ancestors.

James A. Bowery, address unavailable, who claimed he is more closely related to Kennewick Man than anyone else - and will submit to scientific tests to prove it.

xxxx ANCIENT SKELETON FOCUS OF DISPUTE Kennewick The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers doesn’t think scientists legally can stop it from transferring an ancient skeleton to Indian tribes. Last week, the corps filed a motion asking the courts to dismiss litigation by scientists that would prevent the transfer of “Kennewick Man” to five tribes. A hearing date has not been set to argue that motion in U.S. District Court in Portland. In October, eight nationally prominent anthropologists filed litigation to enable them to study a skeleton - estimated to be 9,200 to 9,600 years old - which was found last summer in Kennewick. The corps, which owns the land where the skeleton was found, assumed custody of the remains. The corps says it legally is obligated to turn the skeleton over to the appropriate Indian tribe. Five tribes have joined forces to request custody from the corps. They want to bury the skeleton according to Indian traditions. The tribes oppose scientific study of Indian remains because that violates their religious beliefs. Meanwhile, anthropologists see the well-preserved skeleton as a rare chance to study North American life of 9,000 years ago. The eight anthropologists filed claims saying the corps already has made up its mind to give the skeleton to the tribes after giving others a chance to have a say in the skeleton’s future, including requests for opportunities to study the bones. The anthropologists also claim that they are being discriminated against and that the Native Graves Protection and Repatriation Act is being misinterpreted in this case. They claim modern tribes cannot prove direct lineal descendancy from the skeleton. The corps’ motion argues it has not made a final decision on the skeleton’s disposition but only has requested tribal input. Consequently, the corps says, the anthropologists’ litigation is premature. The corps also contends it is interpreting the law correctly. The law states if a direct lineal descendancy cannot be found for Indian remains, the bones are to go to the tribe on whose lands the remains were found, the corps motion says. Kennewick is in the ceded lands of the Yakama and Umatilla tribes. Portland attorney Paula Barran, who represents the anthropologists, contended last week the corps already has made up its mind regarding the skeleton’s fate. And she said a major legal dispute is whether several aspects of the Native Graves Protection and Repatriation Act - which the corps cites in its arguments - are applicable in this case. - Scripps-McClatchy Western Service

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Stang Scripps-McClatchy Western Service

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