12 October 2004
Board of Directors
Society for American Archaeology
900 Second Street, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002-3557
As President and President-Elect of the Ohio Archaeological Council (OAC), representing the interests of both professional and amateur archaeologists in Ohio, we wish to express our concern with the SAA Board of Director's recent opinion with reference to S. 2843, the Native American Technical Corrections Act sponsored by Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell. This amendment is intended to redefine "Native Americans" such that all Pre-Columbian skeletal materials will de facto be classified as ancestral to historical and contemporary Native Americans.
In the opinion of the Board of Directors of the OAC, some of the earliest skeletal data from this continent may not be directly related to contemporary Native Americans. The U.S. government's finding that the Kennewick skeleton may be most closely related to the ancient Ainu of Japan is a stark reminder of the need to study skeletal remains with the most open of minds, a founding principle in science. Although we appreciate that the SAA opposes the amendment on technical grounds, we are concerned that the "SAA is not opposed to the substance of this proposed amendment" (SAA webpage). Please note that the OAC is opposed to the substance of this proposed amendment.
The SAA, representing over 7,000 archaeologists, has an obligation to protect the archaeological record with all of its power and influence. Objecting to this proposal solely on technical grounds sends a very weak message. Even if the proposed amendment is delayed or returned to committee, we cannot be so naive as to think this will be the last effort of those determined to suppress scientific inquiry. That is why this is exactly the moment when the SAA should be making its most passionate defense of the study of unaffiliated skeletons, bearing in mind that the letter and spirit of NAGPRA does not encourage the return of unaffiliated skeletons. Although the OAC is a strong proponent of NAGPRA as it exists, we do not support the proposed amendment which would clearly alter NAGPRA as we know it.
We hope that the SAA Board of Directors considers our opinion and reformulates its own opinion as to the substance of S. 2843, now or in the future.
Robert V. Riordan
President, Ohio Archaeological Council
Elliot M. Abrams
President-Elect, Ohio Archaeological Council