Creationism: not just for Protestants anymore

| 7 Comments | 6 TrackBacks

When we talk about the legal problems of creationism, we tend to focus on the fundamentalist Christian churches, but there are other varieties of creationism out there. There are even creationists among Indian tribes, and they are also causing problems for scientists. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act ("NAGPRA," 25 U.S.C. §§ 3001-3013), is a federal law which says that if a skeleton is discovered on federal land, and that skeleton is related to an Indian tribe, then the government must give that skeleton to the Indian tribe.

The law was written to address the graverobbery and other abuses of 19th century archaeologists, who often raided Indian burial grounds. But in a recent case, the law was almost used to shut down research on a 9,000 year old skeleton discovered in Washington, which was never shown to have any relationship to any modern Indian tribe. Instead, the Clinton Administration's Department of the Interior declared that the skeleton--called "Kennewick Man"--was an Indian skeleton simply because it was found in American soil and it predated the arrival of Columbus. Umatilla tribe religious leader Armand Minthorn explained that the tribe hoped to rebury the skeleton and thus remove it from scientific scrutiny; it did not want experiments performed on the bones because "[f]rom our oral histories, we know that our people have been part of this land since the beginning of time. . .. We already know our history. . .. My people have been here since time began. . .. I know how the world began, and I know how the world will end."

A group of scientists sued, arguing that this was an irrational, politically-motivated decision. After years of litigation--which included many very shady tactics on the government's part--a federal court agreed with the scientists that the government's decision was arbitrary and irrational. Bonnichsen v. United States, 217 F.Supp.2d 1116 (D.Or. 2002) A few months ago, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. 357 F.3d 962 (9th Cir. 2004). (I filed a friend of the court brief in support of the scientists, on behalf of the Pacific Legal Foundation.) Tribes have asked for en banc rehearing of that decision, but it looks as though scientists will be allowed to research the skeleton. Unfortunately, NAGPRA has led to the destruction of several ancient skeletons. And it, and proposed state versions of the act, require universities to go through their collections, perform studies on the skeletons, and turn them over to tribes for burial and destruction. (England is considering a similar requirement). This threat to science needs to be addressed.

6 TrackBacks

They've only been up for four days, but already have a Kennewick Man post up, from a "Kennewick-enabled" contributor. (Contributor... Read More

They've only been up for four days, but already have a Kennewick Man post up, from a "Kennewick-enabled" contributor. (Contributor... Read More

On a related note... from inappropriate response on July 23, 2004 8:14 AM

Apropos of issues discussed in the previous two posts: Timothy Sandefur, who has contributed amicus briefs for the scientists in... Read More

The Los Angeles Times reports that the eight-year-old legal battle over scientists' attempts to study the 9,300-year-old bones (Feb. 14) is probably not over, even though Indian tribes and the Department of Justice decided not to appeal the Ninth Circu... Read More

The Los Angeles Times reports that the eight-year-old legal battle over scientists' attempts to study the 9,300-year-old bones (Feb. 14) is probably not over, even though Indian tribes and the Department of Justice decided not to appeal the Ninth Circu... Read More

On a related note... from inappropriate response on October 19, 2004 9:16 AM

Apropos of issues discussed in the previous two posts: Timothy Sandefur, who has contributed amicus briefs for the scientists in... Read More

7 Comments

I find NAGPRA to be going too far. If I was one of those Umatilla guys, I’d be pushing for putting Kennewick Man’s bones in a mausoleum, with scientists being invited to study them.

And in general, I think that the mausoleum solution would be MUCH more reasonable than reburial.

The problem with the “mausoleum solution” is that it concedes that the tribal (creationist) claims on the bones are legitimate - they’re not. (If the claims were legitimate, it would be nice if the affiliated groups allowed study - but they wouldn’t have an obligation to do so.)

Thanks for posting on this, Timothy. It’s been a blog-cause of mine for a while, and represents a form of anti-science that doesn’t get much press or very accurate press. And good on you for filing the amicus.

great post! like christian creationists, this is less about religion or science than politics & culture.

I know many American Indians; I am married to one. The anti-evolution world view is common in this community, at least in my personal experience (my husband does not share the anti-science stance) The most frequent complaint is that scientists are wrong about the length of time that Indian people have populated the Americas; Indians have been here much, much longer than is generally accepted. The second most common view is that Indians evolved into h. sapiens here. Those holding that belief do not say what the preceeding species were, since their knowledge of evolutionary theory is usually sparse to non-existent, so the argument does not include a lineage.

I worked in a youth detention center that had a large number of native American youth. I was amazed at one point to have one of them argue that the “people” all came out of a log many years ago. I had never run across this kind of fundamentalism with native Americans before. I can understand an appreciation of the myth of the native American stories, but I cannot imagine anyone accepting it as that kind of fact. I suppose it is no more weird than believing all the animals fit on the ark, that they didn’t eat for a couple of years, and they managed to travel all over the earth without leaving any signs between central Turkey and Australia, South America, Fiji.

The fearful mind is a wonder to behold.

Jon

Could you explain what the shady tactics were on the government’s part?

IIRC the Army Corps of Engineers did things like rebury the body, completely rework the surrounding area, put gravel everywhere, that sort of thing. Someone with more patience could probably find some references.

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This page contains a single entry by Timothy Sandefur published on March 25, 2004 7:04 PM.

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