By MATTHEW DALY
Associated Press Writer
Scientists fear the bill, if enacted, could end up overturning a federal appeals court ruling that allows them to study the 9,300-year-old bones.
The skeleton was discovered in 1996
The scientists successfully opposed a
similar bill in the last Congress sponsored by then-Sen.
Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., chairman of the
Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
"What they are trying to do is to change the statute so that it comes up with the absurd result that tribes can now claim skeletons to which they have no cultural connection," said Alan Schneider, a Portland, Ore.-based attorney for the scientists.
It is far from certain what tribe, if any, Kennewick Man would be assigned to, Schneider said: "He may not even be Indian at all."
Rob Roy Smith, an attorney for the
Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation in
"This is a congressional effort
to right a wrong ... that was identified through the Kennewick Man case,"
Smith said, but it would not affect the case itself. The disputed bones are
being stored at the
Four Northwest tribes -- the
Umatilla, Yakama, Nez Perce and
Last year the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that no direct link exists between the tribes and the skeleton.
Scientists say McCain's bill, with a two-word change, could nullify that ruling.
The change would add the words
"or was" to a definition. It would then say that in the context of
ancient remains, the term "Native American" refers to a member of a
tribe or culture that is or was indigenous to the
The Senate Indian Affairs Committee approved the bill on a voice vote last month.
Andrea Jones, a spokeswoman for McCain, said attorneys have told the committee the bill would not apply to Kennewick Man, because the 9th Circuit has already made a decision.
Aides to Sens.
Gordon Smith, R-Ore., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., also say the bill does not
Angela Becker-Dippmann, a spokeswoman for Cantwell, said that even if the bill is signed into law, tribes "will still have to prove a cultural connection" to an archaeological find before being allowed to claim it.
On the Net:
Information on the bill, S. 536, is at http://thomas.loc.gov
Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.