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Reviewed by:
  • Kennewick Man: Perspectives on the Ancient One
  • Jennifer Karson Engum
Heather Burke, Claire Smith, Dorothy Lippert, Joe Watkins, and Larry Zimmerman. Kennewick Man: Perspectives on the Ancient One. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2008. 320 pp. Cloth, $89.00, paper, $29.95.

Much relevant scholarship on American Indians today is taking a new approach toward collaborative processes. In the best scenario tribal voices are leading the discussion, no longer treated by outside scholars as subjects of interest but as scholars themselves and as partners in the discourse. No recent case seems to have had a need for these collaborative processes and thoughtful voices to lend themselves to more than that of the case of the Ancient One.

For far too long, since the 1996 inadvertent unearthing of the human remains known by some communities as Kennewick Man and by others as the Ancient One, the voices speaking to this story and most often heard were those of forensic and physical anthropologists, lawyers for the respective groups, and the media. Those voices are recognizable in part via their usage of the moniker of Kennewick Man. While attorneys and archaeologists dominated the conversation, the media projected its views and public opinion took sides, leaning far too heavily and obsessively upon the sensationalized and absurd "idea" of Kennewick Man as linked in some hypothetical genetic fashion to British actor Patrick Stewart.

Tribes were also voicing opinions of the ancestor they labeled Oytpama Natítayt, or the Ancient One, but the louder voices of popular opinion and legal jurisdiction often drowned out the more subtle conversations that were taking place surrounding this extraordinary and unfortunate situation. These voices were outside of the shouting match, behind the scenes and out of the limelight, yet they were often much closer to the ground on which this individual once walked. This book takes those conversations out of the shadows and places [End Page 390] them within a comfortable framework that is thoughtful and introspective as opposed to heated and legally driven. The book provides a useful timeline of events of the historical drama. Now that the case is long over and the pitfalls of this precedent-setting decision over NAGPRA have been debated, the social journey surrounding the case itself has evolved into a teaching and learning moment that begins to be fulfilled within the pages of this book.

The contents of this book reveal a connected series of voices, all of which have either a personal stake in or a well-thought-out and meaningful take on the plight and fate of this nine-thousand-year-old figure. Readers can view this book, with its short, palatable essays, metaphorically as a conversation among friends and interested parties who are perhaps sitting around a virtual coffee table where serious discussion is taking place, with all of the urgency of life, death, and the spiritual realm at stake. Those who work with and for tribes and tribal members themselves in the inland Pacific Northwest comprise a small community in the Columbia River Plateau, and many people within this book are acquainted professionally or personally from living on and around the "Big River."

Moving beyond the parameters of the case, cultural property and identity are implicitly linked in these writings. David Hurst Thomas draws an initial parallel between the Ancient One and the man who stole Einstein's brain for the good of science as a powerful appeal for the human rights of the deceased themselves. The story is infused with poetry and humanity in chapter 11. One learns of the delicate intricacies involved in the consultation process in chapter 18. Chapter 28 offers an explanation of archaeology as adversary to tribes by default. Some chapters simply make a salient point, such as Harvey Moses Jr.'s declaration of the whole Ancient One case as being one more "swipe at the inherent sovereignty" of American Indians (102). Other chapters take on the topic of western law itself. James Nason discusses the colonialist underpinnings of the field or "culture" of law, which proved early on through legal maneuvering that Native Americans were never landowners in a European American sense and were thereby easily dispossessed of their homelands...


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pp. 390-392
Launched on MUSE
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