Sen. Murray introduces bill to return Kennewick Man bones to tribes

SPOKANE — The ancient skeleton of Kennewick Man should be returned to a group of Columbia Basin tribes, according to a bill introduced Thursday by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.

Experts believe the remains, discovered in 1996 near the Columbia River in Kennewick, Washington, are at least 8,400 years old.

That makes Kennewick Man one of the oldest and most complete skeletons found in North America, said Murray, D-Washington.

In June, new genetic evidence determined the remains were closer to modern Native Americans than any other population in the world.

Murray’s bill would transfer control of the remains from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, which would return them to the tribes.

“After nearly two decades of legal wrangling and scientific studying, it’s well past time to return these prehistoric remains to their rightful place,” Murray said. “This is simply the right thing to do.”

Several area tribes have joined together in calling for Kennewick Man’s return to his descendants. They include the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, Nez Perce Tribe, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, and Wanapum Band of Priest Rapids.

“As indigenous people, our relationship to these lands goes back to time immemorial,” JoDe Goudy, chairman of the Yakama Nation, said in a news release. “What more can be revealed through additional studies that hasn’t already been identified through existing studies?”

While federal officials earlier concluded that Kennewick Man was Native American and had cultural affiliations with Columbia Basin tribes, a federal judge ruled in 2004 in favor of a group of scientists who wanted to continue studying the skeleton.

The bones since 1998 have been stored at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture on the University of Washington campus in Seattle.

In June, a new analysis concluded that the bones of Kennewick Man were Native American and that he had a direct link to Columbia Basin tribes.

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