Sen. Murray introduces bill to return Kennewick Man to tribes

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has introduced a bill that would return Kennewick Man’s remains to a coalition of Columbia Basin tribes, saying it’s “well past time” to take that step.

“This is simply the right thing to do, and the sooner we begin the process of repatriation, the sooner we can ensure we are honoring the wishes of the Kennewick Man’s descendants,” Murray said in a statement.

The new legislation comes about two months after a team led by University of Copenhagen geneticist Dr. Eske Willerslev released the results of DNA testing and analysis showing the remains are more closely linked to modern Native Americans than any other living group.

It also comes on the heels of a similar request from Gov. Jay Inslee. He wrote a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers in late June saying the remains should be repatriated to appropriate tribes.

Inslee’s office said Thursday that the governor “is strongly supportive of Sen. Murray’s legislation” and that the state Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation has been working with her staff on the bill.

The legislation would transfer the remains of Kennewick Man, or the Ancient One, from the Corps to the state archaeology and historic preservation department, which would guide repatriation.

The nearly complete male skeleton is at least 8,400 years old.

The chairman of the Yakama Nation, JoDe Goudy, on Thursday thanked Murray for “hearing our plea and respectfully initiating the return of our relative” through the legislation.

“The Ancient One is returning from 20 years of displacement, and in these 20 years, he has become the most studied individual in the world,” Goudy said in the statement. “What more can be revealed through additional studies that hasn’t already been identified through existing studies?”

Goudy added that the results of the recent DNA studies “are of no surprise to the Yakama Nation; they merely confirm what we have been saying for the past two decades: the Ancient One is our relative, and we have the responsibility to respectfully rebury him.”

The remains were found in 1996 on Corps property along the Columbia River in Kennewick. The discovery sparked a years-long court battle.

The Corps was preparing to turn the remains over to the tribes, but scientists argued that Kennewick Man might not be Native American. A judge agreed to allow the bones to be studied.

The remains are at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle.