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The Kennewick Man Case | Court Documents | Affidavits & Declarations

Affidavits Address Oral Tradition and Cultural Affiliation

Affidavit of Joallyn Archambault

I, JoAllyn Archambault, being first duly sworn, do depose and state as follows:

1. I am the Director of the American Indian Program of the National Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. The purpose of the American Indian Program is to make the resources of the Museum more accessible to Native Americans by facilitating their on-site visits and their off-site access to information from the Museum's personnel and archives. As Director of the Program, I am in contact with Native American tribal officials and private individuals ranging in age from teenagers to elders in their 80s.

2. My professional qualifications are as follows. I hold a Ph.D. degree in anthropology which I received from the University of California, Berkeley, California, in 1984. I have been employed by the Smithsonian Institution since 1986. Prior to joining the Smithsonian, I was a member of the faculty of the Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukie, Wisconsin (1983-86), and the Director of Ethnic Studies, California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, California (1978-83). I am a cultural anthropologist and have spent my career teaching, conducting research, and administering programs relating to Native American studies. I have authored or co-authored more than seven published articles on Native American studies, and approximately 50 papers presented at professional conferences. In addition to the institutions named above, I have taught classes in Native American studies at a number of colleges and universities including among others: Pine Ridge Tribal College, Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota; University of California (Berkeley); the University of New Mexico; John Hopkins University. I helped to organize the first national association for Native American anthropologists and the Ella Deloria Fellowship Program to provide grants to Native American graduate students in anthropology.

3. I am also an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North and South Dakota. My father was Sioux and my mother was Creek. Both of them were raised on their respective tribal reservations. I am personally familiar with Sioux religious and cultural traditions, and I have great pride in my Indian heritage. I have personally participated in all of the major traditional ceremonies appropriate for a Sioux woman of my age and position in life, including a vision quest and the Sun Dance. I have also participated in the traditional ceremonies of other tribes. All of my important family and personal life events are conducted within the context of Sioux traditions.

4. As a cultural anthropologist and an American Indian, I believe that the Kennewick skeleton should be made available for study so we can learn as much from it as possible. The past is important because it can help to teach us about who we are and how we fit into the world. Kennewick Man is part of the human past, and we have an obligation to preserve as much knowledge of the human past as we can. We owe this obligation not only to ourselves, but more importantly to future generations, both Indian and non-Indian. They will judge us harshly if we needlessly allow part of their heritage to be lost.

5. I respect the traditional religious and cultural beliefs of my tribe and those of other tribes. However, respect does not mean that we must accept all of those beliefs as invariably accurate statements of historic or scientific fact. To do so would be contrary to commonsense and what we know about the world from other sources of knowledge. For example, origin stories (i.e., stories about how the world and/or people were created) vary widely from tribe to tribe. Depending upon the tribe involved, creation may be the work of Coyote, a bird, a first man, a turtle, and so on. Even within the same tribe, traditional beliefs can include multiple creation stories. For example, three different creation stories were accepted in my father's tribe when I was a child. Moreover, since oral traditions are transmitted verbally and stored by memory, the same origin story can be told or interpreted differently by different speakers. Ordinary logic tells us that not all of these different stories or versions can be true, at least in a factual sense. And we should not expect them to be. The purpose of origin stories is to provide metaphysical, rather than historic or scientific, explanations.

6. Origin stories can occasionally contain elements that may reflect an actual historic event or process. For example, Hopi oral traditions claim that one part of their people came to the Arizona/New Mexico region from the west. This story may well be true, at least in a general way, since other lines of evidence indicate that the Hopi migrated to their tribal lands from points to the west and northwest. As a general rule, however, Indian origin stories should be viewed the same as the creation stories of other cultures. They are metaphysical statements, not historic or scientific treatises. Like other forms of great literature, they should be interpreted symbolically rather than literally.

7. Claims are frequently made today that all burial sites are "sacred" to Indians and that scientific study of human remains is contrary to traditional Indian beliefs. Such claims are a gross simplification and over-characterization of Indian traditions and attitudes. For one thing, there was no uniform traditional belief on these questions. Some tribes were reluctant to disturb burial sites or handle human remains, often because of a fear that tampering with the dead might result in bad fortune for the living. For other tribes, all connection between a person and his or her body ended on death, and the lifeless body had no special significance. Most tribes had beliefs somewhere in the middle. Burial sites and remains were important if they belonged to someone famous, or to a parent, grandparent or other known relative, or were sites still in active use. Burial sites and human remains that were not considered connected to a particular group generally were not revered or venerated in any way. This was particularly true when the burial sites were hundreds or thousands of years old and any association between living people and the deceased had terminated in the memories of the living.

8. The concepts of ancestor worship and opposition to science advocated by some Native Americans are largely the creation of modern empowerment movements. As a general rule, under traditional Indian belief systems, one's immediate ancestors were respected since they were known individuals. More remote ancestors, however, ultimately became a general, tentative concept devoid of specific personalities. Unlike other parts of the world (Japan, China and some parts of Africa, for example), American Indians did not keep detailed genealogies going back into the past for hundreds of years which is a practice usually found in societies with ancestor worship traditions. As noted above, there was a range of attitudes toward the dead and their remains. Some tribes viewed the dead, even recently deceased, beloved relatives as potentially negative, troubling spirits who were malevolent toward the living. These tribes avoided human remains, and mortuary rites were considered dangerous to the living. Other tribes thought the dead joined other spirits who could be persuaded through religious rites to bring needed items to the living such as rain. For many tribes the concepts of the afterworld and the existence of the deceased in that world were obscure in contrast to the Judeo Christian tradition. Certainly there was no belief that all human remains from an earlier time belonged to an ancestral group or were related in any way to a group that may have found them accidentally.

9. Likewise traditional belief systems were not opposed to science or technology. Traditional Indian societies were as willing as any other to accept new products and technologies deemed useful and desirable. Nor were they opposed to archaeology or the study of burial sites and human remains (except those associated with their own present communities). In many cases, Indians pointed out promising sites to archaeologists and some even participated as paid staff in the actual excavations.

10. The Kennewick skeleton is part of the heritage of all American Indians, and its study should not be blocked because of the wishes of one faction. Geographic proximity to the location of the skeleton's discovery does not give those tribes who happen to live there now a moral right to dictate what all other Indians can learn from this important new discovery. If Kennewick Man has any living descendants, they could reside anywhere in the United States (or outside it as well). To deny study of his skeleton is to deny them the opportunity to learn the truth about someone who may have been one of their ancestors. For all we know, he could be one of my ancestors. Who has the right to tell me what I can and cannot learn about my own past?

11. The importance of the Kennewick skeleton, however, transcends any questions of biological descent. It is very possible, if not probable, that Kennewick Man has no living descendants. And even if he does, the few genes that his descendants would have received from him after 460 or more generations would be minuscule in terms of their overall genetic inheritance. Their strongest common bond with Kennewick Man would be the same common human inheritance that is shared by all people. At some point, and Kennewick Man has surely passed it, ancient skeletons become the common heritage of all people. Each of us has an equal right to learn what these ancestors can tell us. One of the most important things they can teach us is that the differences between people are only skin and hair deep. Beneath those superficial differences, we are all cousins and we all share a common ancestry. The lessons to be learned from Kennewick Man should unite us, rather than divide us.

12. The anti-science and anti-intellectual arguments espoused by some Native American religious and political factions do not represent the views of all, or even a majority of, American Indians. Most American Indians are as interested about the world and the past as other people. They want to know the truth about the past, and they should be entitled to do so. They, and each new generation of Indians after them, have as much right as anyone else to be exposed to different ideas and to make up their own minds about what they believe or do not believe.

DATED this day of June, 2000.

JoAllyn Archambault

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