March 3, 2017
"Kennewick Man is back in the earth. On December 16, 2016, President Barack Obama signed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, which included a brief section that transferred control of the contested 9,000-year-old skeleton to five claimant tribes. Last week, the tribes reburied the Ancient One, as they call him, in a grave not far from where he was found along the Columbia River.
The 20-year battle over North America’s most famous ancient man has come to a close. But, at this rate, the repatriation wars will not end.
Although many museums and tribes amicably work together to follow the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), some continue to stoke controversy by pitting the interests of science against those of Native Americans. For instance, a letter last year in the journal Science likened the legal process of repatriation in the U.S. to terrorists’ destruction of heritage in the Middle East, a crime against humanity.
Such antagonism sustains conflict rather than offering real solutions. Repatriation demands will not cease. Native Americans will not yield their rights. The legal skirmishes over skeletons and ideological fights waged in magazines thus constitute an endless war given the millions of artifacts in American museums and yet discovered in the ground. Congress cannot create a law — as it did for Kennewick Man — for every skeleton in America’s closest."