Religious Group's Demands for Kennewick Man DNA Testing Await Judge's
Nevada City, California, USA....The Asatru Folk
Assembly (AFA), a
pre-Christian religious organization that honors its ancient European
ancestors, chose this week to have a separate hearing on its demands
DNA tests on the 9,300-year-old skeleton found in 1996 in Kennewick,
Federal Judge John Jelderks of Oregon's US District
Court had asked
the European tribal group to join in a hearing held in Portland
14, where attorneys for anthropologists argued for the right to
Kennewick Man, initially identified by anthropologists
is one of oldest, most complete skeletons ever
found in North America.
Shortly after his discovery, carbon dating determined he had lived
years ago, calling into question current theories on prehistoric
of North America.
"While we share the belief that the government
has no right to keep
anthropologists from studying the Kennewick Man, we continue to
mitochondrial DNA testing to determine his genetic links to our
ancestors," says Stephen McNallen, who heads the California-based
"We believe we have the right to know if Kennewick
Man is our
ancient relative and, if so, to see his remains are passed on to
people for culturally sensitive and appropriate handling," he added.
Judge Jelderks said he would delay setting a hearing
date on the
AFA's motion, filed on September 7, until he issues a ruling on
scientists' requests later this month.
McNallen's group has hired Emory University's
Dr. Michael D. Brown, a
specialist in the genetics of ancient human populations, as an expert
witness in their bid to force the government to allow mitochondrial
testing, which should reveal Kennewick Man's link to modern peoples
The government has claimed the 1990 Native American
Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) automatically identifies
"Native American" any inhabitants of America that pre-date Columbus'
arrival in 1492.
Citing that law, the US Army Corps of Engineers
announced in 1996 it
would turn Kennewick Man over to American Indian tribes for secret
without further study, prompting both the scientists and the Asatru
Assembly to file suits for the right to study the remains. The Department
of the Interior now has the remains.
For three years, the AFA's and scientist's lawsuits
due to governmental delays. At their September 14 hearing,
called the delays "highly unreasonable," and asked the court to
constituted a de facto denial by the government of the scientists'
to study the bones. Such a finding would allow the scientists
other legal remedies, including a suit claiming NAGPRA is unconstitutional.
Federal attorney Allison Rumsey, representing
the government at
last week's hearing, argued that there is "no Constitutional right
study the bones," insisting that Kennewick Man is "government property."
Portland attorney Paula A. Barran, who represents the scientists
suit, challenged the federal government's claim to the bones asking
is the government? The people. We are the government."
During the hearing, Judge Jelderks questioned
claim that NAGPRA covered "ancient remains," noting that his own
the Congressional Record revealed no such intent when the bill was
debated. He noted that if the government decides NAGPRA justifies
Indian ownership of all human remains that are more than 507 years
refusing all requests to study such remains, the scientists in the
Kennewick Man suit could litigate the constitutionality of that
Questioning the government's motives for repeating
Judge Jelderks asked the department's chief archaeologist Frank
if the government would still identify Kennewick Man as "Native
if the tests found Kennewick Man to be one million years old, and
he shared virtually no features consistent with modern-day Native
Americans. Judge Jelderks also asked if the government believed
tests that found the remains to be 9,300 years old could have been
a factor of 20 times. Rumsey replied that "Native American"
AFA leader Stephen McNallen later noted that NAGPRA's
pre-Columbus inhabitants of North America
reflect a disturbing "Indians only" policy.
Rumsey and McManamon confirmed the Department
of the Interior's
plans to study Kennewick Man's "cultural affiliations" with American
Indian tribes, a process she said could take an additional two years.
NAGPRA allows individuals or tribes to claim remains if they can
On September 8, the Department of the Interior
took more bone
samples for carbon dating from Kennewick Man, whose remains are
Burke Museum in Seattle. Barran told the court that scientists
sample size was 120 times greater than the amount necessary for
tests, destroying forever key skeletal remains. She
noted that the
tibia, or shin bone, used for the government's sample, was the only
remaining bone appropriate for critical diagnostic tests.
The tibia could
also have revealed Kennewick Man had been purposefully buried, or
accidental post mortum trauma.
Barran stated that since the femur (leg) bones
-- also used to
identify skeletal characteristics -- had disappeared while in the
government's possession, preservation of the tibia should have been
priority. Requests for high resolution photography of the
tibia prior to
sampling, possibly of value for diagnostic study, were ignored by
Barran also noted that the government destroyed
the site of
Kennewick Man's discovery by dropping 500 tons of dirt and rock
calling the totality of the government's actions "beyond negligent."
After hearing arguments from federal attorneys
representing the scientists, Judge Jelderks said that within 10
would set a firm deadline ordering governmental agencies to answer
scientists' request to examine Kennewick Man. The Judge affirmed
plaintiffs "have the right to have their claims heard within five
years," which he said could be the length of time cases related
Kennewick Man's remains are in court.
"Regardless of the Court's decision on the scientists'
study Kennewick Man's remains, the Asatru Folk Assembly will fight
vigorously to see that state-of-the-art genetic tests -- not an
and possibly unconstitutional federal law -- define his relationship
modern man," says McNallen. McNallen also announced plans to seek
who will study possible cultural affiliations of Kennewick Man to
European peoples -- including the Solutrean culture of ancient Europe.
In response to the Asatru Folk Assembly's motion
testing of the remains, Interior Department spokeswoman Stephanie
last week said there is no chance Kennewick Man is a 9,300-year-old
European. Hanna insisted that any DNA testing would be intended
the skeleton to present-day Native tribes. ### >>