Ancient One / Kennewick Man

Nov. 21, 1997

(former) Tribal Chair Questions Scientists'
Motives and Credibility

By Don Sampson
(former) Board of Trustees Chairman
for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation


Most American Indians do not appreciate having the graves of our ancestors disturbed and their remains dissected and studied in the name of science. This practice, generally supported by non-Indian society, has come to the forefront over the past year and a half with the unearthing of a skeleton near present-day Kennewick, Washington. The media and the public have come to know this individual as Kennewick Man.

We have tried to explain to the public and scientists that our religious and cultural beliefs mandate that we rebury the remains of this individual as soon as possible. Many people don’t seem to care about, or respect, our religious beliefs. So, rather than present those points again, I will take this opportunity to briefly address some of the scientific issues of this case.

We do not believe the issues surrounding this case are, in any manner, related to scientific facts. Rather, the issues are the result of an effort of a small group of scientists, through a media campaign, to lay claim to materials which Congress did not intend they have.

In their media campaign, the scientists have led the public to believe they can produce considerable data by studying this individual, including knowledge of the earliest peoples of this continent. In an article published last summer in The New Yorker magazine, scientists claim they already know a great deal about Kennewick Man. They think he may have been a fisherman who ate lots of salmon, that he was probably a tall, good-looking man, slender and well proportioned, that he was part of a small band of people who moved about, hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants, that he may have lived in a simple sewn tent or mat hut, and that he may have worn tailored clothing.

The federal court, the Corps of Engineers, and the public should be asking the scientists to demonstrate how they can tell these things. These descriptions of the scientific "knowledge" obtained by the scientists is purely speculation and hypothesis, and do not advance our knowledge of this person, or mankind, a single bit. Almost anyone seeing an old skeleton in that area could have reached the same conclusions without destructive tests like the scientists want to perform.

These scientists are alleging that racial origins can be determined by examining the skeleton. But it is common knowledge among good anthropologists that it is impossible to determine the so-called "race" of an individual. A sample group is needed so that common traits can be determined.

The Kennewick Man remains were examined by Dr. Grover Krantz and there have been indications, using outdated techniques, that the skull has some "Caucasoid" features, some "Native American" features and a "Negroid" feature. Even following the 19th century science used by Dr. Krantz, there are 3 possible origins.

Dr. Grover Krantz has been regarded primarily as an expert on the "Big Foot" or "Sasquatch." From what we understand, his research is regarded by many of his colleagues as far from the mainstream of anthropology.

We also question the credibility and methodology of other scientists involved in the initial studies of Kennewick Man. Why hasn’t a detailed report been compiled from those initial studies? Where is the statement of work and description of the methodology used? Were the studies conducted in accordance with the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) as they should have been?

The "scientific case" for requiring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to allow testing of these remains is, in our viewpoint, shaky to non-existent.

We want the public and scientists to understand that we do not reject science. In fact, we have anthropologists and other scientists on staff, and we use science every day to help in protecting our people and the land. However, we do reject the notion that science is the answer to everything and therefore it should take precedence over the religious rights and beliefs of American citizens.

Donald Sampson served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation from 1993 to Dec. 1997, when he decided not to run for re-election. He has a Bachelor’s of Science Degree from the University of Idaho.

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