Privileging Claims to the Past: Ancient Human Remains and Contemporary Cultural Values
95 Pages Posted: 9 May 2009 Last revised: 14 Jun 2011
Date Written: 1999
This article probes the unarticulated significance of Kennewick Man, which has come to be much more than a case about ancient human remains. To the extent that we privilege claims to the past by according rights to either scientists or to Native Americans, we are making fundamental choices to recognize certain values of a pluralistic society and suppress other values. There is a political and moral significance to the controversy over Kennewick Man that goes to the heart of intercultural relations between Native American and non-Native American people in the United States. The ultimate disposition of Kennewick Man will say a great deal about the status of Native American peoples in this country. In Part II, this article offers an overview of the case, including its factual setting and the current status of the litigation, and then describes four fundamental sets of issues implicated by the case. Part III examines the central legal issues that apply to the case. Part IV discusses the conflict between science and culture that lies at the heart of the controversy, and probes related constitutional and normative issues. In Part V, the article addresses the use of NAGPRA by Native American peoples as a way to assist their cultural claims. Finally, Part VI of the article examines the political context of indigenous peoples' repatriation claims, within both the international and domestic arenas, and the importance of the Kennewick Man case to the question of value pluralism.
Keywords: Human remains, indigenous peoples, cultural property
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