The question of the real affiliation of Kennewick man remains a fundamental problem. Five different tribes have already laid a claim for its ownership. These are the following tribes: Umatilla, Colville, Wanapum, Nez Perce and Yakama. As long as the war of words continues raging, what remains to be seen is whether a DNA test will unravel this affiliation (Kevles, 1994). However, archeologists have already acknowledged that this determination will be a daunting task considering that the ethnicity is only determined by cultural definitions and not by any scientific methods. Indeed, the only reliable way to make an intelligent guess is by using the study of the ancient skeletal remains to understand the migration patterns of American immigrants (Tano Mervyn, Kimberly TallBear, and Huia Pacey, 2000).
In September, 2000, a letter written by Bruce Babbitt, who was at that time the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, seemed to have laid few facts that existed. According to him, the Department of Defense of the United States had determined that the evidence of the cultural continuity was strong enough to show that Kennewick man was affiliated to the present day Indian tribe of Claimants. In his view, the Indian tribe of Claimants was considered a legal custodian of the skeletal material (Liloqula, Summer, 1996).
The evidence that formed the backbone of the argument of the Department of Interior was obtained from oral history, American geography and a small bit of archeological sources. However, the public perception of the Department of Interior providing adequate evidence was quite interesting, considering that it did not recommend or intend to do any further testing.(Kevles, 1994). However, thereafter, the Department found out that another skeletal remains called the Spirit Cave mummy could not be affiliated historically or otherwise to any of the modern tribes, although it was roughly of the same age as Kennewick man (General Assembly of the State of Vermont, 2000). As a matter of fact, none of the laboratories could make any findings on the basis of the DNA samples that had been given to them. In fact, they could not even obtain an adequate material for DNA tests from the bone collagen. The U.C. Davis Molecular Anthropology Laboratory reported that further developments in the methods of DNA analysis could make it possible to extract and study the DNA of the remains of Kennewick man (Tano Mervyn, Kimberly TallBear and Huia Pacey, 2000).
While at that time it sounded like a good idea, now it is to happen. Eight scholars, which had gone to the court to be allowed access to the Kennewick skeletal material, came to the fore again. They renewed their suit against what they considered a severe professional setback. This was a clear indicator that besides the politics of Kennewick man, a good majority of the general public hold the belief that Kennewick Man should be reburied without further DNA analysis (Associated Press, February 2, 2000). For many observers, this could be one of the unending battles in the war between a scientific advancement and conservative religious beliefs. Meanwhile, there was no doubt that the stakes were high on both sides of the divide and would not end soon if they were not timely reconciled (Luca Cavalli-Sforza, 1997).
Some legal progress continues being made anyway. In August, 2002, a judge in the state of Oregon gave a ruling that was considered a relief for archeologists. This long-awaited decision was a judge’s ruling that scientists must be given access to the Kennewick skeletal remains so they could study them and make determinations that befitted them. It further restricted the repatriation of the skeletal remains of Kennewick man to the American Indian tribes that were one of the parties in the court case. Without doubt this reasoning had serious implications at that time and would certainly have an impact on the future procedures and legal considerations concerning the protection of archaeological resources (Liloqula, Summer, 1996).
As any legal document, the Kennewick Man decision was like a die already cast. The document was clearly written with perfect logic and, therefore, a mere fact that it bore sharp criticism of the undertakings of the Department of the Interior on federal lands could not be taken for granted. However, it continued being seen as a denial of the rights of tribes, often drawing more sympathy than sense in its analysis. Nowadays, there is a popular argument that the prevailing legislation, that should have been given more consideration to, is to protect archeological resources (APRA) and not the one that roots for repatriation (NAGPRA) (Tano, Mervyn, Kimberly TallBear, and Huia Pacey, 2000).
The Archaeological Resources Protection Act ARPA of 1979 was intended to ensure that archaeological sites occurring on federal lands were to be properly safeguarded. Further, the main focus was laid on the protection and conservation of archaeological materials for science. In fact, all artifacts found under ARPA were to be given special protection by the state and made available to qualified scientists in a timely manner (Kevles, 1994). On the other hand, NAGPRA enacted in 1990 was meant to ensure that archaeological and cultural materials found on federal lands would necessitate repatriation to the original owners as defined by the history. However, this was to be endorsed only after they had been properly identified and assigned to the descendants of American Indian tribes, which made a logical claim for them, especially, for the archeological material of human remains and the traditional ceremonial goods. It will be seen if legal battles continue and if the Indian tribes are given a permanent right to bury the skeletal remains after an adequate DNA test. (Lee, December 26, 1999). Meanwhile, the battle continues in the court of law with equal measures. It will be seen as soon as a DNA test provides a solution to this complex question.