During the past decade, the tribes and bands of Eastern Washington have reburied more than 670 of their ancestors.
It is past time to also rebury the Ancient One, also known as Kennewick Man, said tribal representatives who met Wednesday with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Murray has introduced legislation to return the skeleton found along the Columbia River in 1996 to a coalition of Columbia Basin tribes.
A scientific study completed in June at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark concluded that the DNA from the 8,500-year-old bones of Kennewick Man is related to that of contemporary Native Americans, including those who have lived in the region where his bones were found.
“The five tribes have been working so long to bring one of their own home and bury him as any one of us would want,” Murray said at a news conference after meeting with representatives of the Colville, Nez Perce, Umatilla and Yakama tribes, and the Wanapum band at the Reach center in Richland.
There have been two decades of legal wrangling and scientific study of the nearly complete skeleton, Murray said.
Returning the bones now “is simply the right thing to do,” she said. “The sooner we begin the process of repatriation, the sooner we can ensure we are honoring the wishes of the Ancient One’s descendants.”
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., also have called for Kennewick Man’s bones to be turned over to the coalition of tribes.
The state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation has been working with Murray on the legislation and would guide repatriation.
Introducing federal legislation is the first step and challenges lie ahead, Murray said.
Tribal representatives who met with her Wednesday were encouraged.
Scientific study of the ancient bones had been allowed because the tribes could not prove their kinship to Kennewick Man to the satisfaction of a federal court.
Ironically, it took science to prove what native people had known from teachings passed down through time immemorial about their ancestors, said JoDe Goudy, chairman of the Yakama Nation.
The Wanapum elders had no doubts that the Ancient One was an ancestor, said Rex Buck of the Wanapum Band, which lives at Priest Rapids, upriver from where Kennewick Man was found.
The Wanapums are asking the people of the Tri-Cities and the nation to understand that it is time for Kennewick Man to be honored.
“We need to put him back so he can rest,” Buck said.
The natural order and natural law have been disrupted for the nearly 20 years that Kennewick Man’s bones have been disturbed, Goudy said. But now is one of those rare times when natural law and man’s law align, providing a unified path forward to rebury the Ancient One.
The bones of thousands of tribal ancestors still sit on shelves, despite repatriation efforts during the past decade, said Armand Minthorn of the Umatilla board of trustees.
Kennewick Man’s skeleton is under the control of the Army Corps of Engineers because it was found on Corps land in Columbia Park. It is stored in the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle.
Murray’s legislation addressing Kennewick Man will shine a light on the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which describes tribal rights to the human remains of their ancestors, Minthorn said.
“This is our ancestor,” he said. “He needs to be treated as such.”