Senator Cambell of Colorado has introduced a bill in the Senate to “make technical corrections to laws relating to Native Americans, and for other purposes.” Among the technical corrections included in the bill is Sec. 14 – Amendment of Definition:
“Section 2(9) of Public Law 101-601 (25 U.S.C. 3001(9)) is amended by inserting ‘or was’ after ‘is’.“
The consequence of this proposed change to Public Law 101-601, otherwise known as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, would be to broaden the ability of Native American groups to prevent scientific study of prehistoric human remains found on federal lands.
The “or was” proposal likely arises from the ultimate disappointment of Native American interests in the Kennewick Man lawsuits.
The Kennewick Man is a collection of 9200 years-old skeletal remains found in 1996 on the banks of the Columbia River. Almost since the moment of discovery, the remains have been the subject of a continuing lawsuit between scientists wishing to study the bones and a group of Native American tribes seeking to prevent that examination.
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was at the center of the Kennewick Man lawsuit. Under the law, Native American tribes have to demonstrate a link between the remains and an existing tribe. Earlier this year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the tribes, saying that they hadn’t demonstrated a link to the remains. The “or was” amendment would eliminate that requirement, essentially deeming that all pre-1492 human remains found on federal lands should be controlled by existing Native American tribal interests.