Re: A Demand for the Kennewick Man's Remains

Thomas L. Billings (
Tue, 26 Nov 1996 16:33:47 -0800

In article
<>, wrote:

> On Sat, 23 Nov 1996, Stella Nemeth wrote:
> > wrote:
> (Lots of stuff that we both agree on snipped)
> > >Of course, a Euro-American claim on the skeleton is just the sort of
> > >proprietary politicking about ownership of the past that NAGPRA emerged
> > >as a response to.
> >
> > Now we come to the real question. Why is the claim of a person who
> > happens to be "Euro-American" (only God knows if the man is or is not
> > of European background alone) more "proprietary politicking" than the
> > claims of Native Americans. This skeleton is thousands of years old.
> > The likelihood that the particular group of Native Americans which
> > claimed it being descendants of this skeleton is not great. In fact
> > it is probably quite unlikely.
> Yes, but it's a question of grouping rather than lumping. Look at all of
> the p.c. terms for Americans of various descent: African-, Native-,
> Asian-, Mexican-, &c. Very often, when people (probably mostly
> Euro-Americans) say "American," they are thinking of Euro-Americans. I
> say Euro-American in a conscious effort to avoid defining Americans as
> Euro-Americans. But that doesn't mean I'm always successful (see below).

How grouping is done is dependant on what people want out of the act. I
would suggest that the "Euro-American" grouping is done within academia to
set up conflicts that otherwise would be far less sharply drawn. The
culture becoming dominant in world-wide, which has spent 200 years growing
up, and coming more and more into prominence, is NOT dominated soley by
any one traditional ethnic group in the world. It is an INDUSTRIAL
culture. That is the culture that Science, including Archaeology and
Anthropology properly belongs to, not some "Euro-American" mishmash.

> So in terms of NAGPRA, what we see happening in the politics of it is
> that Euro-Americans (which self-annointed defenders of archaeology
> frequently are) identify as a single group but require the Native
> Americans to act as separate cultural/tribal entities. If you read
> NAGPRA and the rules & regs surrounding it, you find that its remedies
> are only available to Federally-recognized tribes. Further, you find
> that cultural affiliation must be determined before the bones go to
> anyone -- but cultural affiliation is understood to be tribal.

This was indeed what was desired by many from those seperate groups at the
time, if those I have spoken to here in Oregon are correct.

> We have a
> double standard -- people who are Euro-American are just Euro-American;
> whether we're Scottish, Irish, French, German, or whatever-American is
> irrelevant because it's the "Euro" that matters more than the particular
> country. Besides, given all the intermarriage, country is hard to identify.

Not so! Some families just off the boat from the back country farms of
Russia, or any other less industrial area of Europe have distinctly
different attitudes than those living in industrial America or Europe for
several generations. What you seem to be complaining about is the
relative unity of much of the archaeological/anthropological scientific
community, an industrial network, which has seen substantial influence
from outside of Europe/America by now. It is a world-wide network.

> Native Americans, however, are not given the latitude to act as a united
> group of people.

They don't act as a united group of people for the most part. Like the
rest of us, they're busy, adapting to an industrial environment. The
"latitude to act" is being witheld from political groups desiring
political power, through the union of the First Nations as a political
coalition. Kennewick-Man is another "issue" for them.

>When you're talking about someone who is 9,000 years
> old, though, modern tribal distinctions are likely irrelevant.

Then why give power over the knowledge (artifacts, remains, etc.) to
someone from any of these groups, or even more so, to the political groups
seeking power thereby?

> What
> matters is not what tribe(s) the person may be most closely related to,
> but that the person is Native American.

That is what I don't agree with. This particular grouping,"Native
American", is done for NO other reason than to hand political power to a
particular political group (representing some, but not all, and maybe not
even a majority, of those they "speak for") that may have affinities with
many of the political causes of academia.

> The differences between the
> person's living beliefs and those of any extant Native American group are
> probably pretty big -- but they're still probably much more similar to
> any extant Native American group than to any Euro-American group.

The differences between industrial culture and any 9,000 B.P. culture are
probably very large, but the farming, fishing and hunting communities in
the Pacific N.W. at even 500 B.P. had an environment with little
similarity to that of 9000 B.P. Neither they nor we would probably be
readily understandable to, or understanding of, our friend from 9000 B.P.

> When
> you get back into times where modern groups won't hold, maintaing the
> divisions between such groups is ridiculous.

Indeed, maintaining either divisions or putative similarities here is
risky at best, and virges on insanity when stretching things to 9000 years
without other strong motivation. It is that strong motivation for doing
this that so many such as myself are concerned with. I see this as yet
another attempt to inflate the political groups opposed to industrial
culture, and it's neccessary freedoms, including the intellectual freedom
to proceed with scientific enquiry, including anthropological,
archaeological, and paleontological examinations of our 9000 B.P.

> This is just
> another means to exercise control.

When the intellectual freedom to pursue scientific investigation is called
"control", then either you are saying that the freedom is being abused,
and false knowledge disseminated, or you're saying that the freedom is a
threat to some other factor you'd like to see enhanced. That other factor
wouldn't be the political power of some group, would it? Or is it that
you believe the scientific groups that would perform the investigations to
be either morally or intellectually corrupt? The view that the whole
enterprixe is corrupt has been expressed of course, by people ranging from
Vine Deloria to Pat Robertson, but I don't think either of us are in that

> Why? United they stand,
> divided they fall. This is a big reason you see so much `respect' among
> archaeologists for Native American cultural traditions when it comes to
> NAGPRA. It's a way to maintain power by keeping the opposition unbalanced.

You have painted this as a vision of a virtuous "opposition" held down by
somebody, somewhere, somehow. For some reason, "they" must have control
over the remains of Kennewick-Man to keep some portion of such repression
from occurring again. In fact, this is just another group of politicos,
saying that their politics should limit the type kind and degree of
scientific enquiry. Any political group saying that should be deeply

Inspite of my disagreement wih your views, I thank you for your coherence
and thoroughness in expressing them.

> Rebecca Lynn Johnson
> Ph.D. stud., Dept. of Anthropology, U Iowa


Tom Billings

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