PORTLAND, OR —The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Northwestern Division (Corps) transferred the human remains known as the Kennewick Man, or the Ancient One, to the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (Washington) on Friday, Feb. 17 on the condition that the Department then repatriate the human remains to the five Columbia River Plateau tribes. The transfer took place at the Burke Museum in Seattle, Washington where the remains have been curated since 1998.
In July 1996, the nearly complete, male skeletal remains of Kennewick Man were inadvertently discovered on Corps land at the McNary Dam Project near Kennewick, Washington. Since that time, the Corps curated the remains at the Burke Museum under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, and followed the Native Americans Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGRPA) in consultation with The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, The Nez Perce Tribe, The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and the Wanapum Band of Priest Rapids (five Columbia River Plateau Tribes or Tribes).
On December 16, 2016 the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN 2016) was signed into law. Section 1152 of that act required the Corps’ Chief of Engineers to transfer the Kennewick Man remains to Washington within 90 days, notwithstanding NAGPRA. The Corps timely carried out the requirements of this law, which provided in part that the transfer of Kennewick Man is conditioned on the remains being repatriated by Washington to the five Columbia River Plateau Tribes. Washington’s repatriation to the Tribes also occurred on February 17.
"I am proud to have worked closely with tribal leaders, the Army Corps, and Washington State to ensure the Columbia River Plateau Tribes could give their descendant a proper burial and a final resting place,” said U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) the sponsor of the Bring the Ancient One Home Act, which was included in WIIN 2016. Senator Murray worked with Representatives Dan Newhouse (R-WA-04) and Denny Heck (D-WA-10), who supported this legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"Repatriating the remains of the Ancient One was the right thing to do, and I was pleased to work with Columbia Basin tribes, my congressional colleagues, the Army Corps, and the state to get this done,” said Congressman Dan Newhouse.
"For two decades, the Native peoples of the Columbia River Basin have sought to lay their ancestor to rest. After a long and courageous effort by these Tribes to have their rights and traditions honored, today we can finally say, 'welcome home, Ancient One,'" said Congressman Denny Heck.
“The transfer of these remains to the State of Washington for repatriation to the five Columbia River Plateau Tribes has been successfully completed in accordance with WIIN 2016,” said Maj. Gen Scott A. Spellmon, Commanding Officer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Northwestern Division. “I wish to express my gratitude to each of the five tribes for the relationships forged during the Corps stewardship of these important remains,” he added.
Information on the Corps’ prior decisions regarding Kennewick Man can be found on the Northwestern Division’s web site at: http://www.nwd.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/CulturalResources/KennewickMan.aspx.
In July 1996, the nearly complete, male skeletal remains of Kennewick Man, sometimes referred to as the Ancient One, were inadvertently discovered by two men on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) land at the McNary Dam Project near Kennewick, Washington. Kennewick Man is one of the oldest and most complete skeletons discovered in North America.
The recovery of the remains, and subsequent analyses, led to a controversial debate over who controls the human remains among the federal government, Native American Tribes, and scientists.
Following the 2015 publication of new DNA information based on Dr. Eske Willerslev and his team’s research, the Corps began to re-examine the status of Kennewick Man to determine whether this substantial new evidence meant that the remains are Native American under the Native Americans Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Additionally, the Corps contracted for an independent validation of the genetic evidence underlying the June 2015 results. The Corps received this report in April 2016, which concurred in the finding that the Kennewick Man’s DNA sequence sample is genetically closer to modern Native Americans than to any other population worldwide.
Concurrently to the Corps’ actions, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the Bring the Ancient One Home Act in August 2015 and Representatives Denny Heck (D-WA-10) and Dan Newhouse (D-WA-04) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2015. The Bring the Ancient One Home Act was included in the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN 2016), which was signed into law on December 16, 2016.