Army Corps determines Kennewick Man is Native American - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Army Corps determines Kennewick Man is Native American

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KENNEWICK, WA. -- The 20-year debate over who owns the remains of the world famous Kennewick man may soon be coming to an end. Wednesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officially labeled the Kennewick Man a Native American.

The Army Corps of Engineers says the next step is moving toward returning the skeleton of Kennewick Man back to one of our local Native American tribes. The question is, which one does he belong to? 

As many of you know, back in 1996, a man watching the boat races discovered bones, later determined to be around 9,000 years old, known since then as simply Kennewick Man. 

On Wednesday, the Army Corps officially labeled Kennewick Man a Native American after using a independent consultant from the University of Chicago.

This is a big step. For decades the federal government and local Native American tribes have been in a legal battle over who owns the historic bones. But there's a lot of work still to be done. The Army Corps will now begin a process known as repatriation. First, they have to determine which tribe is the rightful owner of Kennewick Man. 

"There's a lot of work ahead of us," Michael Coffey of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said. "What we are planning to do over the next few months is to develop a framework in order to decide how we're going to move forward with cultural affiliation and trying to get to a determination."

A cultural affiliation determination takes nine factors into account. They include: geographical, kinship, biological, archaeological, anthropological, linguistic, folklore, oral tradition and historical evidence.

In the past, several tribes have demanded the bones return, including the Yakama, Colville, Nez Perce and Umatilla tribes. 

It's unclear at this point what this means for a bill in the U.S. Senate that would require the bones returned to a local tribe. A hearing discussing that bill is set for Thursday. 

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SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has determined that the ancient skeleton known as Kennewick Man is related to modern Native American tribes.
    
The Northwestern Division of the corps announced Wednesday that its decision was based on review of new information, particularly recently published DNA and skeletal analysis.
    
The corps says the remains are now covered by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The corps says the next step is to review the priority of custody for any Native American tribe that submits a claim.
    
The 9,000-year-old remains were discovered in 1996 in southeastern Washington near the Columbia River in Kennewick, triggering a lengthy legal fight between tribes and scientists.
    
The bones will remain at the Burke Museum in Seattle during the NAGPRA process.

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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