First DNA tests say Kennewick Man was Native American

By Sandi Doughton, The Seattle Times

Kennewick ManSEATTLE — Nearly two decades after the ancient skeleton called Kennewick Man was discovered on the banks of the Columbia River, the mystery of his origins appears to be nearing resolution.

Genetic analysis is still under way in Denmark, but documents obtained through the federal Freedom of Information Act say preliminary results point to a Native American heritage.

The researchers performing the DNA analysis “feel that Kennewick has normal, standard Native American genetics,” according to a 2013 email to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for the care and management of the bones. “At present there is no indication he has a different origin than North American Native American.”

If that conclusion holds up, it would be a dramatic end to a debate that polarized the field of anthropology and set off a legal battle between scientists who sought to study the 9,500-year-old skeleton and Northwest tribes that sought to rebury it as an honored ancestor.

In response to The Seattle Times’ records request, geochemist Thomas Stafford Jr., who is involved in the DNA analysis, cautioned that the early conclusions could “change to some degree” with more detailed analysis. The results of those studies are expected to be published soon in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Stafford and Danish geneticist Eske Willerslev, who is leading the project at the University of Copenhagen, declined to discuss the work until then.

But other experts said deeper genetic sequencing is unlikely to overturn the basic determination that Kennewick Man’s closest relatives are Native Americans.

The result comes as no surprise to scientists who study the genetics of ancient people, said Brian Kemp, a molecular anthropologist at Washington State University. DNA has been recovered from only a handful of so-called Paleoamericans — those whose remains are older than 9,000 years — but almost all of them have shown strong genetic ties with modern Native Americans, he pointed out.

“This should settle the debate about Kennewick,” Kemp said.

Establishing a Native American pedigree for Kennewick Man would also add to growing evidence that ancestors of the New World’s indigenous people originated in Siberia and migrated across a land mass that spanned the Bering Strait during the last ice age. And it would undermine alternative theories that some early migrants arrived from Southeast Asia or even Europe.

It’s not clear, though, whether the upcoming study will provide tribes the legal ammunition they need to reclaim what they call “The Ancient One.”

Controversy flared over the skeleton almost from the moment in 1996 when two students stumbled across human bones near the Southeastern Washington town of Kennewick.

Bothell archaeologist James Chatters, the first scientist to examine the skeleton, said the skull looked “Caucasoid,” not Native American. A facial reconstruction that bore a striking resemblance to Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (actor Patrick Stewart) of the television series “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” further inflamed members of local tribes, who argued that the remains were rightfully theirs under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

After eight years of litigation, a federal appeals court ruled in 2004 that Kennewick Man’s extreme age made it impossible to establish a clear link to any existing Northwest tribes.

A scientific team led by Douglas Owsley, a physical anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution, won the right to study the skeleton, which is stored at the University of Washington’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.

The results, including a new facial reconstruction based on more thorough analysis of the skull, were published last year in a 669-page book. Owsley, the lead author, told Northwest tribal members in 2012 that he remains convinced Kennewick Man was not Native American.

In an interview last week, Owsley explained that he bases that conclusion on the shape of the skull, which doesn’t look anything like the skulls of modern Native Americans. Its narrow brain case and prominent forehead more closely resemble Japan’s earliest inhabitants and people whose genetic roots are in Southeast Asia, not Siberia and other parts of Northeast Asia.

“His origins are going to go back to coastal Asia,” Owsley said.

That wouldn’t preclude the possibility of some distant, shared ancestry with Native Americans, he added. But chemical analysis of the bones suggests Kennewick Man ate a lot of marine mammals, which means he probably spent most of his life along the coast of Alaska or British Columbia, not on the Columbia Plateau where his bones were discovered, Owsley said.

With its ability to settle questions about lineage, DNA analysis has become one of the most powerful tools for the study of the ancient world, said Peter Lape, curator of archaeology at the Burke Museum.

“This is yet another case where genetics are really revolutionizing the way we think about ancestry and calling into question older scientific methods that rely on looking at the shape of bones,” he said.

Nevertheless, the majority of visitors he encounters at the museum still have the impression that Kennewick Man is caucasian.

“That initial media storm from 1996 just kind of stuck,” Lape said.

Chatters, the man who kicked up that storm, changed his mind after studying the 13,000-year-old skeleton of a young girl discovered in an underwater cave in Mexico. As with Kennewick Man and other remains of the earliest prehistoric Americans, the shape of the girl’s skull was unusual. But DNA analysis proved that she shared a common ancestry with modern Native Americans, originating with the people who migrated into the land mass called Beringia beginning about 15,000 years ago.

“The result from Kennewick is the same one we’re getting from the other early individuals,” Chatters said. “It’s what I expected.”

Attempts to extract DNA from Kennewick Man’s bones in the late 1990s failed. But the technology has advanced so much since then that researchers recently succeeded in analyzing the genome of a 130,000-year-old Neanderthal from a single toe bone.

Willerslev’s Danish lab is a world leader in ancient DNA analysis. Last year, he and his colleagues reported the genome of the so-called Anzick boy, an infant buried 12,600 years ago in Montana. He, too, was a direct ancestor of modern Native Americans and a descendant of people from Beringia.

Until details of the Kennewick analysis are published, there’s no way to know what other relationships his genes will reveal, Kemp said. It may never be possible to link him to specific tribes, partly because so few Native Americans in the United States have had their genomes sequenced for comparison.

“My feeling is once you get the Kennewick genome, there are going to be people lining up to find out if they’re related to him,” he said.

Members of Northwest tribes visit the Burke Museum regularly to pay their respects to The Ancient One, and continue to press for his reburial.

Willerslev met with tribal representatives in Montana before analyzing the Anzick boy’s DNA. Last summer, after those studies were done, he joined tribal members — including several Northwest veterans of the Kennewick Man wars — as they reinterred the boy’s bones on a sagebrush-covered slope near the spot where he was discovered.

Ancient canoe exhibit inspires thousands at Chickasaw Cultural Center

Chickasaw Cultural Center Director of Operations Brad Deramus admires a huge dugout canoe dating to approximately 1500 A.D. It is on loan to the center from the Department of Mississippi Archives and History to augment the world-class Dugout Canoes: Paddling through the Americas currently on display through May 6, 2015, at the Sulphur, Oklahoma, location.
Chickasaw Cultural Center Director of Operations Brad Deramus admires a huge dugout canoe dating to approximately 1500 A.D. It is on loan to the center from the Department of Mississippi Archives and History to augment the world-class Dugout Canoes: Paddling through the Americas currently on display through May 6, 2015, at the Sulphur, Oklahoma, location.


By: Chickasaw Nation


SULPHUR, Okla. – They were the metaphorical pickup trucks of their day. Native Americans used them to ferry families across rivers, move trade goods to market and a means of travel.

Dugout canoes were difficult to fashion into water-worthy vessels. All were made from a single tree trunk, fire coals placed atop it and then the charred wood was hollowed out with an adze or similar sharp-edged tool made of stone, sea shells and, eventually, metal.

In 2000, a group of Florida high school students stumbled onto what is believed to be the largest treasure trove of dugout canoes in the world – 101 of them dating from 500 to 5,000 years old, according to experts.

That discovery gave birth to Dugout Canoes: Paddling through the Americas, a world-class exhibit on display at the Chickasaw Cultural Center through May 6, 2015.

More than 9,700 people have experienced the exhibit as of Nov. 1. An additional 6,000 have admired a Mississippi vessel displayed away from the main dugout canoe exhibit which is estimated to be 514 years old.

Window blinds are drawn almost like a secret is hidden in the Aapisa Art Gallery at the Chickasaw Cultural Center.

The lights are dimmed too, along with a sign warning visitors not to touch – a departure from many exhibits more than 300,000 people have enjoyed since the center’s opening in 2010.

Director of Operations Brad Deramus swings open the door and extends an invitation to step foot inside and behold an item made in 1500 A.D., discovered intact and preserved from a swamp in the Mississippi Delta.

Most likely the immense 26-foot long dugout canoe was made by Chickasaws.

“Think George Washington’s great-great-grandfather,” Deramus remarks to illustrate the age of the ancient vessel.

It was discovered in Steele Bayou Lake in Washington County, Mississippi, decades ago. It is on loan from the Department of Mississippi Archives and History to augment Dugout Canoes: Paddling through the Americas.

Weighing in at more than 1,000 pounds., it is made from a single bald cypress tree and is manufactured in the ancient Chickasaw tradition. It is the perfect complement to Dugout Canoes: Paddling through the Americas, a display thrilling adults and children, Deramus said. Interactive kiosks, art endeavors, ancient canoes and signs abound encouraging visitors to touch many of the displayed items.

A 400-year-old pine tree dugout canoe, along with tools dating to 600 A.D. and remnants of some of the 101 dugout canoes discovered by the students are included in the exhibit. Many of the display items are hands-on. Some of the more ancient items are behind glass enclosures. CCC cultural experts are on hand to assist visitors who have questions.

While none of the 101 dugout canoes discovered by the Gainesville, Florida, students in drought-stricken Newnans Lake 14 years ago are displayed, remnants of some of the ancient vessels are at the Chickasaw Cultural Center to be enjoyed.

In fact, while some of the canoes discovered by students are fully intact, most were left in place at Newnan’s Lake because excavating them would prove destructive after centuries of protection by water and mud.

About American Indian Heritage Month

Efforts to establish a time to honor Native American Heritage began as early as 1916, when the governor of New York officially declared “American Indian Day” in May of that year. Since that time, a number of states have designated specific days or weeks to celebrate Native American heritage. Since 1976, Congress and the president have designated a day, a week or a month to honor American Indian and Alaska Native people. November has been set aside for the celebration since 1991, when a Senate Joint Resolution was passed authorizing and requesting the president to proclaim each month of November thereafter as “American Indian Heritage Month.”


Native Youth Photo Challenge: Show Everyone What It Means to Be Native

WeRNativeNative youth across the nation are invited to show the world what it means to be Native by taking the WeRNative Photo Challenge using the #WeRNative hashtag in social media, to raise awareness of Native American Heritage.
Native youth across the nation are invited to show the world what it means to be Native by taking the WeRNative Photo Challenge using the #WeRNative hashtag in social media, to raise awareness of Native American Heritage.




Native youth across the nation are invited to show the world what it means to be Native by taking the WeRNative Photo Challenge using the #WeRNative hashtag in social media, to raise awareness of Native American Heritage.

We R Native, a non-profit multimedia health resource for Native teens and youth teamed with Native-owned marketing company, Redbridge Inc., to host the #WeRNative Photo Challenge throughout November as a celebration of Native American Heritage Month.

We R Native is the only comprehensive health resource for Native youth, designed by Native youth, providing content and stories about the topics that matter most to them: social, emotional, physical, sexual, and spiritual health. The organization encourages Native youth to take an active role in their own health and well-being.

“Our tribal youth face a lot of challenges that leave them feeling like they’re facing them alone,” Stephanie Craig from We R Native said in announcing the event. “In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, Native youth will unite to show the world, and each other, they’re not alone and what it means to be Native by using the hashtag #WeRNative.”

On average, the We R Native project, funded by the Indian Health Service, reaches over 31,000 users per week through its various media channels.

“If the total Native American population is 1.6 percent of the nation, then Native youth are .5 percent. It’s easy to see why they feel alone in the challenges they’re facing,” Shannon Hulbert, CEO of Redbridge said in the statement.

“Imagine how empowering it would be if they started to see a number of other tribal youth across the nation saying #WeRNative,” Hulbert said. “The Challenge could serve as a platform for raising awareness, not just for who’s struggling and how, but also for who’s facing the challenges in ways they hadn’t thought about, and who’s smiling through it all.”

In the 2010 Census, 5.2 million people reported they were American Indian or Alaska Native (AI/AN), with approximately one-third under the age of 18. AI/AN youth are disproportionally impacted by a variety of adolescent health concerns, including high teen pregnancy rates, drug and alcohol use, and depression and suicide, which heighten their need for programs that align to their unique culture and social context.

Tribes and tribal organizations throughout the U.S. are working to develop and implement evidence-based, culturally-appropriate health interventions.



Adam Beach says a connection to ancestry is important

Adam Beach talks to media at the annual We Day event at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Oct. 18, 2013.
Photograph by: Nick Procaylo , PNG

The Province

By Tracy Sherlock, Postmedia News October 18, 2013

Adam Beach, a Canadian actor who stars in Arctic Air, lost both of his parents within a two-month period when he was eight years old. Although there was a lot of fear in his life growing up, he says it was a connection to his First Nations ancestors that made him who he is today.

“I grew up in sexual abuse and got involved in gangs in my teenage years. I was always running away from the fear of what happened to me,” Beach said in an interview at We Day. “I noticed myself being drawn toward the identity of who I am as First Nations and I realized that there are teachings there and a timeline that hasn’t changed.

“That helped me become brave and strong, a leader and who I am today.”

The Golden Globe-nominated actor was born in Manitoba, raised on the Dog Creek Reserve, and is a member of the Saulteaux First Nation. He has starred in more than 60 films and TV shows, including Big Love, Hawaii Five-O and the blockbuster Cowboys Vs. Aliens with Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig.

His Golden Globe nomination was for his role in the 2007 HBO film Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. He also won Best Actor at the American Indian Film Festival in 1995.

He says the entertainment industry changed his life by allowing him to have a voice. As an example, he said he was able to get a group of chiefs together to agree unanimously on the Save the Fraser Declaration because of that voice.

“That’s the voice I have and the strength I have … because of the entertainment value of being the ‘Hollywood Indian,’” he said. “And I respect it, I don’t abuse it, and I know that there is a value to this entertainment status. Every kid wants to be a star and looks up to an entertainer.”

The 40-year-old started the Adam Beach Film Institute last year in Winnipeg to help other native youth get involved in film careers.

“I want to find the next Adam Beach. I think we need to tell our stories — we haven’t tapped into that, so this will encourage an aboriginal workforce,” Beach said.

At We Day, Beach performed a First Nations blessing ceremony using a bear pipe and an eagle wing. He said the blessing was a way of connecting the crowd with its ancestors.

“I am asking our ancestors to hear (these) youth and help them with their vision of making social change,” Beach said.

“(The eagle wing is for) asking to take the energy of the eagle to help bless us … and to allow us to connect with it in the way that an eagle soars, has a longer vision and the gift of flight — so help us in our journey to fly.”

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