Repatriating the Ancient One

On Friday, on behalf of Governor Jay Inslee, State Historic Preservation Officer, Dr. Allyson Brooks, had the incredible honor of repatriating the Ancient One, known as Kennewick Man, back to his family, the five claimant tribes. The tribes had been working to retrieve their ancestor for 20 years. Two years ago, the agency joined in the fight to bring the Ancient One home. The Governor and State Senator John McCoy helped Dr. Brooks bring this situation to our Congressional delegation and requested their assistance in bringing this matter to a close. Working with Congress, Dr. Brooks assisted Congressional staff with drafting legislation that would transfer the Ancient One to the agency, and then the agency, with their expertise, would conduct a repatriation to the five claimant tribes. The legislation was placed in the WIIN Act of 2016 but it still took some effort to have the Ancient One transferred to the State. Last Friday, staff from the Burke Museum, Dr. Guy Tasa, and staff from the Corps of Engineers, with tribal representatives and Dr. Brooks in attendance, conducted an inventory of the remains. Two hours later, the Ancient One was transferred to the State of Washington and ten minutes later, the Ancient One was transferred back to his descendants. Over thirty tribal members from the five tribes at the Burke were waiting to witness the transfer and bring him home. After the transfer, the Ancient One was bundled in a moving ceremony, and he was driven home. As the tribes placed him in their car, two eagles began circling overhead. He was laid back to rest on Saturday morning along the landscape that he knew so well. On the way home, Dr. Guy Tasa sighed and said, “now I’ve seen the remains, how could anyone not think he was not Native American?” Major kudos and a huge thank you go out to Governor Jay Inslee, Senator Patty Murray, Rep. Denny Heck, Rep. Dan Newhouse, State Senator John McCoy, State Senator Jim Honeyford, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Washington State archaeological community for supporting the efforts of our agency and the claimant tribes. Major kudos to the Burke Museum for their work curating and caring for Ancient One for so many years. A special thank you to curator Laura Phillips to being so incredibly knowledgable and prepared for our inventory, which allowed for a smooth and seamless process.

What did we learn from this situation? That the tribes oral history had been correct all along. He was their ancestor, he walked a lot (it was 8,600 years ago..what else are you going to do?), he ate marine life out of the Columbia River and may have traveled to the Coast, and yes, he moved along the hills, plateau and rivers of the PNW. The plaintiff scientists never contacted Dr. Guy Tasa or the agency for any comparative sample information which had always concerned us as good science requires comparative samples and peer review. In the end, after litigation that cost the taxpayers millions of dollars unnecessarily, our PNW tribes were proven correct, that he was their family member.

It was an incredible honor for Dr. Brooks and Dr. Tasa to conduct the repatriation on Friday and to finally end a long injustice. And for anyone that thinks tribes and archaeologists don’t or can’t get along…that is absolutely untrue. This saga shows that if nothing else, here in the PNW we are partners in cultural resource protection.

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