Here's a news flash you may have missed: Europeans didn't seize the Americas from the Indians. Why? Because the Europeans were here first!
That is the gist of an argument being put forth by some to end any discussion of Native American rights and remove lingering collective guilt over the biggest land grab in history, not to mention the accompanying genocide. And upon what grounds do they stake this claim that Europeans had prior rights in the Western Hemisphere? In large part on a 9,300 year-old skeleton known as Kennewick Man.
Kennewick Man, discovered in 1996 on the banks of the Columbia river near the Washington town of Kennewick, is alleged to be a very atypical Native American. Many of the physical characteristics resemble those of Europeans more than other Native Americans. In fact, the anthropologist who first examined the bones assumed them to be of a white homesteader. That notion was challenged when one of the bones was found to have an imbedded spear point characteristic of stone weapons in use thousands of years ago. Subsequent chemical dating of the bones established their antiquity. Soon after the age of the skeleton was revealed, the bones were classified as an Indian burial, making further study possible only at the discretion of Native American authorities or the courts, since their custodianship is now being contested.
For most people the possibility that North Americans might have experienced racial diversity so long ago is interesting, but of no particular importance in interpreting more recent history, and certainly of no relevance in current policies dealing with Native Americans. Some people, however, don't see it that way. There was already a small group who contend that a major rewriting of the history books is in order to accommodate their theory that whites were among America's earliest settlers. They point to Indian legends of red-headed and blue-eyed tribes, and several other finds of pre-Columbian human remains with Caucasoid characteristics. The right-wing newspaper "The Spotlight," in its October 13, 1997 edition, features a story headlined: "Anthropological Evidence Suggests Whites Settled the Americas" and proclaims that "the Establishment is bent on covering up evidence that whites didn't steal the Americas from the Indians." Focusing primarily on Kennewick Man, the article fails to mention that, while the skeleton bore many Caucasoid traits, an examination of the teeth revealed a similarity to South Asian people. The premature designation of Kennewick Man as "white" is based more upon prejudices than scientific evidence. Kennewick Man could be just as easily related to "non-white" Caucasoid people of the Mideast, India, or even parts of the Pacific. Terms such as "white" have little meaning to biologists and physical anthropologists, who must work with bones and teeth, not skin color or hair texture..
Once again a few people are mixing a little evidence with a lot of bias and calling it science. We may never know if there were "white" Indians, but it should make no difference in our respect for Native Americans and our recognition of the crimes against them. No racial trivia can change that.
Copyright 1998 by Patrick Inniss. All rights reserved.