Scientists as Modern Colonialists:
The Ancient One and Jack Metcalf
originally written for Left Hook
A recent ruling on the “Kennewick man” bones has deep implications as yet another in a long line of scientific attacks on indigenous sovereignty. The recent court decision that the local Indians do not control the bones despite the non-ambiguous nature of laws passed on agreements between the nation and the American state is one more salt-grinding demonstration that sovereignty of First Nations is not something that a North American government is bound to respect. Not only is the ruling a legal blast to the existing treaties and legislation, it is proof that the “above politics” nature of “honest scientific inquiry” is a total hoax. Before we know it, this will allow a tidal wave of racist reaction from first-to-fifth generation settlers about First Nations not really being “first”.
Karl Marx once wrote that “a spectre is haunting Europe”; the spectre of sovereignty has and will continue to haunt the North American imperialist settler colonies of Canada, Quebec and the United States. The United States government is throwing a bone to the most reactionary of forces– those forces in the western United States who wished to hand over the bones of the Ancient One (the traditional name of “Kennewick Man”) to “science” are career anti-Indians. Washington state Senator Jack Metcalf, long known for being an opponent of anything that even resembles Indian “special treatment”, had signed onto a letter urging that the Ancient One be turned over to archaeologists. This, regardless of whether such is a violation of treaties or laws with the United States and four “tribes” in the US Pacific Northwest, a violation of sovereignty or a violation of sacred beliefs held by members of the Nations who must be “over-ruled” by the “special imperatives” of “scientific investigation”.
Jack Metcalf has made a long term name as an anti-Indian Senator. He was one of the main voices, along with anti-Indian “whale lover” Paul Watson of the Sea Shepperd Society, that called for any and all means to stop the Makah people from re-starting their traditional whale hunt in May of 1999. Metcalf is no environmentalist; his voting record on the protection of salmon (he is a GOP’er from Washington State) is opposed to any legislation at all. He has also voted against any provisions to protect clean water and watersheds.1 He has consistently voted to gut spending and authority given to the Environmental Protection Agency– in the name of “deregulation”.2 He has made mainstream environmental groups lists of “anti-environmental” congressmen, senators and other political candidates.
Most recently, after voting to ban abortion procedures, force prayers in schools and legally bar the federal government from offering any services in any language other than English, Metcalf voted against the Kyoto Protocol.3 Jack Metcalf, however, hates Indians even more than he hates the whales, and has used “the environment” as part of his lifetime commitment to eradicating what is left of sovereignty for “Native Americans”. While making deals with former leftist-turned-misanthropic racist Paul Watson, Metcalf led and continues to lead a fight against the Makah Nation from resuming their traditional whaling rights.
The Makah Nation’s whaling rights were part of a treaty that still remains in tact between the Makah and the United States. The treaty cedes these rights to sovereign nation control. In the 1920’s the Makah voluntarily stopped the hunt. The Gray Whale is no longer on the global “endangered” list, having made a partial recovering from the devastation of the commercial whaling industry (something the Makah were not a part of). The Makah people, however, have a long way to recovering from the colonization of their lands and subsequent herding onto Bantustan homelands. With unemployment and suicide high and living standards and education levels low in part due to cultural genocide, some elders believed that restarting the tradition in light of the steady recovery of the Grays would provide a pole of community growth, bonding and healing through traditional cultural practices.
Suddenly, Jack Metcalf is a reborn animal rights militant and consorting with former “enviro-terrorist” for Greenpeace, “Captain” Paul Watson. Metcalf would have people believe that he has a sudden heart-felt attachment to whales. In reality, he is living out his constant theme: Never allow Indian Nations to exact control over their destiny. After Metcalf and his associates failed in the courts to block the “legal” resumption of the whale hunt, Watson led his crusaders on flotillas to try and physically block the hunt, but they were in turn sent back to shore and restrained. The Makah resumed their hunt and had a giant feast on nation territory after their first successful hunt in decades, May 17, 1999.
Any vestige of sovereignty terrifies men like Jack Metcalf, for any expression of sovereignty here, they instinctively believe, is an attack on the United States and puts the lie to the concept of the settler state– or at least the supremacy of the (white) settler colony. From part time whale enthusiast and gay basher, Metcalf recently discovered the needs of scientific inquiry. Though a committed believer in fundamentalist interpretations of Christianity including creationism, Metcalf has attached himself recently to the belief that science can tell us about the evolution of North America– by taking “Kennewick Man” and testing him. The case for doing this of course, is an opportunity to attack indigenous sovereignty– whether excersized through legal means by treaties, spiritual means through belief systems, or culturally through accepted discourse and historical “truths” seen as “self evident”. It’s not grave robbing, it’s “research”.
Even the American law is very clear on the question. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act [NAGPRA] of 1990 states that all human remains found to pre-date Colombus’s invasion must immediately be repatriated to the Nation upon whose land it is discovered. Due to illegal preliminary tests and scientific deduction, estimates state that the Ancient One’s remains are 9,500 years old (within a century or two). Some scientists were immediately excited, as it seemed to indicate that when they believe Beringia– the ice bridge and continent that joined Alaska with Asia more recently– was not the source of the initial population for North America. This wasn’t contested by the four “tribes”–Nez Perce, Umatilla, Yakama and Colville– who had contested for the remains to be turned over to indigenous control. They all have oral histories that state “they have always been here”, and as such know this to be one of their ancestors. Besides any of these beliefs, falsely made the issue by certain scientists, the direct issue is one of sovereignty.
The Army Corps of Engineers (COE) seized the bones and promptly began to repatriate the remains to the Umatilla (the “tribe” whose land the Ancient One was found on). Panicked, scientists “couldn’t believe” that this was to happen. Congressman Doc Hastings led several others, including Jack Metcalf, in demanding in writing that the COE expedite scientific inquiry and turn the bones over to the “scientific community”. After all, they stated, they could prove the bones were a “Caucasian male”, and therefore were not indigenous (This has since– many years later– changed to a “determination” that the bones more accurately resemble peoples from the Polynesian South Pacific).
Several scientists then took the COE to court to block repatriation. According to NAGPRA, a committee must be struck to determine origins when disputed. Though already a limitation on sovereignty, the committee wasn’t empowered by NAGPRA to determine what “indigenous” was. So, they reported “decisions regarding disposition [to someone other than the nation in question- MS] of a small number of generally very ancient human remains will require amendments to NAGPRA by Congress.” 4 Why else would Jack Metcalf want to support Darwinian evolutionary study? The same reason he wanted to Free Willy. It’s a legal cover for racist motivated attacks on indigenous populations’ self-determination.
If self-determination means anything, it means the right to carry out decisions without the possibility of others interceding. The racists in Washington State understood that. That’s why they could not tolerate the proper repatriation of the Ancient One for a burial, in accordance with the traditions of those who have jurisdiction over his remains. The recent ruling of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals5 that NAGPRA does not apply because no evidence exists to tie the bones to the Nations in the area was a victory for colonialism and the denial of sovereignty. It is also further proof that everything truly is, political. Including the world of “neutral” science.
Science first becomes a legal entity to attack Indian Nations, by making claims of “right to know” interests that go higher than sovereignty, followed by attacks on the belief systems held by indigenous claimants. Now, after scientific inquiry into the bones happens, should the remains show to be either Caucasian or South Pacific in traits, this will establish further cultural attacks on the rights of sovereign nations– after all, so will say the detractors, “they weren’t really the first ones,” so screw self-determination. Red herring arguments of this ilk, along similar lines as “with the ice bridge over Beringia that makes us all immigrants” are not above politics either. It is a clearly manipulated tale, one that must be told to help exorcise the ghosts that haunt Turtle Island.
The kind of obsessively anti-Indian personality that is a Jack Metcalf didn’t spring out of nowhere. His type were raised on a diet of games that I saw as a child as well. It’s part of the settler colony mystique to play “Cowboys and Indians,” and shoot all the red-feathers. The kids like Jack Metcalf always lined up to “call” the right to be a cowboy first. The best you could do would be to get all the “Injuns”. He continues today to try and clear the frontier, recognizing each and every cultural, political, spiritual and territorial manner in which to finish the game he was playing as a kid. He digs up graves and he saves the whales. But I saw a shirt at a demonstration against Florida GovernorJeb Bush here in Montreal the other day. It was a picture of an Indian Warrior riding a horse in battle. The caption read: “My heroes have always killed cowboys”. As a kid playing the game, you knew that the odds were against the Indians. But they could still do the cowboy damage. That is, they still won battles. Just ask the men, women and children of the Makah.
Macdonald Stainsby is a 28 year-old freelance writer, student and social justice activist originally from Vancouver, Canada currently living in Montreal, Quebec. He can be reached at email@example.com. Notes