Ancient One / Kennewick Man
November 5, 1998
Since it began, more than two years ago, the Kennewick Man issue has damaged relationships and divided America. It has harmed relations between the scientific and tribal communities, and it has harmed relations between tribal people and many of our fellow Americans. The October 25 telecast of this issue on CBS's 60 Minutes has only heightened that damage and widened that division.
We are extremely disappointed in the story that aired. When the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation agreed to an interview with 60 Minutes, we had faith that CBS and Lesley Stahl would be fair and truthful in reporting this story to the American people. In our opinion, the story was neither fair nor truthful. Instead, it was biased toward the scientists that were interviewed and it presented the issue in a sensationalized manner.
We were particularly surprised and dismayed at 60 Minutes presenting the notion that we are acting out of fear - fear of losing our tribal sovereignty and everything that goes with it. The story implied that the outcome of this case would affect tribal treaties with the federal government. In fact, the outcome of this case has no legal bearing whatsoever on tribal treaties and tribal sovereignty. 60 Minutes did a great disservice to their viewers when they espoused such a legally unfounded assumption.
Apparently some people postulate this notion of fear because they refuse to respect and understand our true motives in wanting these remains reburied. The assumption that we are motivated by financial concerns reveals more about the reporter's and producer's own biases than about those of the Tribes, and demonstrates 60 Minutes' failure to either understand or accurately portray the Tribes view. Or, perhaps they simply could not grasp the reverence we have for human remains. To most non-tribal people, they are merely old bones, not the sacred remains of a human being.
The other key point that I must point out about that telecast is the obvious omission of some key legal arguments. This issue is based on the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990, which 60 Minutes did not even mention by name. Nor did they mention the past activities by physical anthropologists and archaeologists that offended tribal beliefs and basic human rights to the point that Congress felt legislation was necessary. The plaintiff scientists in the Bonnichsen et al v. US case are not suing to challenge tribal beliefs nor are the Tribes parties to the suit. The plaintiff scientists are suing the Corps of Engineers challenging the application of NAGPRA. It is not science versus religion, as the story so simplistically represented, it is science versus the law.
NAGPRA ended the practice of archaeologists' and physical anthropologists' unrestricted excavation of Indian burials and requires tribal consent to excavate or study Native American human remains. The scientists involved in this case maintain that this restriction will end the field of North American anthropology, when in reality it only requires them to work with the tribes, not to exclude the tribes, as in the past. The plaintiff scientists in the Bonnichsen case argue that they have a right to perform invasive and destructive testing on these remains under both the Constitution and statute. It is one thing to say that scientists have a duty to objectively search for the truth. It is quite another to argue that their duty gives them the right to excavate and study Native American human remains without the consent of those who are most closely related to the remains. This is not the intent of NAGPRA.
The late Paul Minthorn, of our Department of Natural Resources, brought up these and other legal arguments in his interview with 60 Minutes, but it seems very convenient that there were problems with his videotape and that none of his interview was used in the story.
Finally, I must mention the story's harsh treatment of the US Army Corps of Engineers. Throughout the story 60 Minutes painted them as "siding with the Indians." They did not side with us, they were merely following and implementing the existing laws that protect archaeological sites, including NAGPRA and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The NHPA required the Corps to stabilize and protect the eroding archaeological site where Kennewick Man was unearthed.
We hope the American people will realize that the 60 Minutes
piece was a simplified, sensationalized version of a very complex
and far reaching issue. Such poor journalism can only further
polarize an issue that should be resolved by thoughtful discussion
rather than litigation or legislation.
Other Ancient One information
| Who We Are | History & Culture | Our Government | Documents | News |
| Events | Jobs | Businesses | Our Community | Links |