From this moment on kindly refer to my family as "indigenous." Or, if you prefer, "First Peoples." With the discovery of what could be my long-lost European relative - Kennewick Man - it's time to respect my elders.
Kennewick Man, found in 1996 on the banks
of the Columbia River near the town of the same name in Washington
state, is alleged to have "European features' and is 9,300 years
old, thus pre-dating the initial arrival of Native Americans to the
area. In fact, only one set of bones in the United States is older:
Sen. Strom Thurmond's.
anthropologist Jim Chatters briefly examined Kennewick Man, he
announced to the world that our ancient guy resembled Star Trek,
the Next Generation's actor Patrick Stewart.
what other clues led Chatters to his controversial determination
that this bag of bones was non-Indian? Perhaps it was the Timex
watch, the plastic Big Gulp cup from 7-Eleven, or the Denver
Broncos warm-up jacket. Judging by the rampant development in the
American West, probably early Europeans were real estate developers
- -Century 21 Men."
Chatters' speculation has
triggered an avalanche of criticism, some from other scientists,
but mostly from a confederation of Northwest tribes who do not want
to lose their sovereignty or change the tried and true story that
Native Americans arrived first and then we came and screwed up
everything. The confederation wants Kennewick Man returned to them
so that he and any further scientific specimens can be buried in an
undisclosed location, thus preventing any holes being opened into
their belief systems.
Tribes cite the 1990
federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act that
requires skeletons found in Native American areas to be turned over
to the tribes. But the skeleton must be a proven descendant, and
back then no one kept detailed records.
pleading his case before the House Resources Committee, Armand
Minthorn, leader of Oregon's Umatilla Tribe, said to the Seattle
Times, "We are not worried that study of the remains will change
history, or cause us to lose our standing in history. We already
know what happened 10,000 years ago. We know we have always been
Chatters countered, "We're seeing a real
extremism developing here. The tribes basically are saying that
they are in control of all human history in North America. They
have always been here, and there are to be no more questions
Chatters reminds one of a modern-day
version of Italian astronomer Galileo, and the tribes are in the
unfamiliar position of representing the status quo, the Church.
Only 368 years ago, Galileo was forced by Rome to deny the truth -
that the earth and all the planets revolve around the sun. In the
1600s, his heretical views were too risky to an entire religious
belief system. If Chatters' assumption is correct, Native Americans
may have to rewrite their own history, and the odds of that
happening is the same as Kennewick Man suddenly rising from his
Tupperware coffin to perform an Irish jig.
prevent any of the above from happening, I've come to the rescue
with some revisionist history: A handful of restless Europeans
arrived in the Northwest 9,300 years ago, but soon left because
someone thought he had left a fire burning back home. All except
Kennewick Man, who was a nature writer and not well regarded. He
was lying on his back, watching cloud formations and composing a
long-winded essay about the Missoula Floods when the rest of the
clan ditched him. A saber-tooth tiger came along, thought, "Umm,
nature writer," and the rest is ancient
Or, we can just call it a tie. We all
arrived about the same time, give or take a thousand years, and
most of us hate icy roads.
At the end of October,
Kennewick Man was moved under tight security to the Burke Museum at
the University of Washington in Seattle, where he will rest while
the legal battle continues. Before the move, an exhaustive
inventory of the skeleton was performed by team of researchers.
Chatters was not invited to take part - maybe it was the Patrick
While we await the archaeological
verdict, I'm going to work on recovering my new indigenousness. I
want a large tract of land. I want a society that doesn't worship
minivans. I want to play basketball with Sherman Alexie. I want the
rest of you to copy my rituals, commercialize my culture and
romanticize my every twitch. Now, about those casino profits?
Stephen Lyons lives in
Washington state. His most recent essay for High Country News
featured an interview with "God" regarding Idaho Rep. Helen