Saturday, October 13, 2012

Uncle Ken

Uncle Ken
Seattle Times Oct. 12, 2012

Kennewick Man bones not from Columbia Valley, scientist tells tribes

The beauty of it is that it made no difference to the tribes. They continued blithely on as if KM was still their baby. In their view, belief trumps reality; which, truth be known, is a hallmark of belief. What follows are a few excerpts from the article and my intemperate responses.

“In a historic first meeting of two very different worlds, Columbia Plateau tribal leaders met privately Tuesday with scientist Doug Owsley, who led the court battle to study Kennewick Man.”

“Minthorn [Armand Minthorn of the Umatilla Board of Trustees] said reburial still needs to happen, and that the law should be changed to give tribes better control of sacred remains.”

Oh sure, We should just let you decide what’s sacred and what isn’t and then hand over whatever you say is sacred to you. Capital idea. I’m sure you’ll be impartial; you’ve shown yourself as such already. Not to mention having a good grasp of paleoanthropology.
Doug Owsley
“Ruth Jim, a member of the Yakama Tribal Council, where she is head of the tribe's cultural committee, said it is frustrating that Kennewick Man is still out of the ground. ‘I don't disagree that the scientists want to do their job, but there should be a time limit. The only concern we have as tribal leaders is he needs to return to Mother Earth,’ she said.”

“…the skeleton, which has largely been inaccessible but for two instances, in which a team of about 15 scientists could study it for a total of about two weeks.”

Absolutely, Ruth, two weeks is more than enough time for a thorough study. More than enough. I’m glad you brought that up. And we’re glad that as tribal members you’re concerned about the burial of this person who wasn’t a member of your tribe. Quite thoughtful of you. Unless, of course, this person came from a tribe that liked to donate their bodies to science; you never know, do you? Tell me once more, why does he need to return to Mother Earth?

“Vivian Harrison, NAGPRA coordinator for the Yakama, said it was disturbing to look at the slides Owsley showed, with the bones presented on a platform to be scrutinized from every angle. ‘Really, to me, it's sad. This is a human being and his journey has been interrupted by leaving the ground.’”

Look, Vivian, if you’re squeamish, leave the room. Don’t buy your meat from the slaughter-house. But there’s nothing inherently disturbing about bones. Old bones, new bones, human bones, dog bones. If you’re disturbed, okay, but don’t make us guilty because you’re of a delicate constitution; please get out of the way.

Sure, he’s human; but he’s delighted to be out here telling his story. He says it was stuffy underground and he’s glad for a second chance. He says he’s got a story worth telling. He says he doesn’t care if he ever goes in the ground again. Trust me; the White Buffalo told me this.

“Jaqueline Cook, repatriation specialist for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, said scientists' finding that the skeleton had been purposefully buried was significant.

“‘It says a lot that somebody took care of him,’ Cook said. ‘To me that says community. And that he is part of the land. And our land.’”

Yo, with you all the way. Someone took care of him. I’d say that says community. And no doubt he’s been a part of our land for 8,500 years. For that we honor him. We owe him a lot. I’m also sure that when you say “our land” you mean all of us, not just the Indians. Surely, we’re all of this Earth together. But I don’t think one has to be buried to be part of the land, do you? I feel I’m part of this land, but I’m not quite dead yet. Close, maybe, but still wiggling my fingers. He gets to be the person that came out of the ground to tell his story. Listen.

“‘The day's presentation was ‘subtly traumatic,’ said Johnny Buck, one of Rex Buck's sons and a member of the steering committee of the Native Youth Leadership Alliance. ‘We have medicine people that took care of bodies. But we never did look so long at them.’”

Was that an argument or simply a statement? What do your customs have to do with these bones? We don’t hang around and stare at dead bodies for months on end, either, as a rule; but there’s nothing saying that sometimes it’s not a good idea. You’re talking as if the bones were yours. You’re trying to make an argument for bones that aren’t yours by describing what you would do with your bones. No one’s saying what you should do with your bones; they’re saying these aren’t your bones. They don’t become your bones by you saying so. Get over it. Why are you still arguing?

“…the Ancient One.”

Aka Kennewick Man. The problem with “Ancient One” is that there are a lot of those guys, one has to distinguish among them somehow. He’s not yours; you don’t get to name him.

We got that straight?


Try and get this straight, too: we’re all one. Go back 8,500 years and everyone is everyone’s ancestor. Kennewick Man is not more ancestral to the Umatillas or the Yakamas than he is to the Hottentots or the Swedes. You guys don’t have special standing. None. I personally know that most of you weren’t born here until after I was. There’s a song about this place: “This land is your land; this land is my land…”
Armand Minthorn
The message is: stop being whinny-butts. Stop thinking you’re special Americans. Get with the program. There’s a big jumble of people out here and you’re just one more jumble. You’re about as special as the Armenians. They could use a reservation, too.

Me? I’ve got reservations about the whole thing.

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