BOB ABERNETHY: Thinking about the first Massachusetts Thanksgiving 376 years ago, it's bittersweet to remember the Pilgrims and Indians started off as friends. Indeed, the settlers owed their lives not only to God, to whom they gave thanks for their harvest, but to Squanto and Massasoit and the other Indians who protected them, taught them how to survive, and then brought venison to the Pilgrims' feast -- the first colonial potluck supper. But that was then, many wars ago, and today the descendents of Native Americans, and some of the descendents of those European settlers who are archaeologists are fighting. This time, it's a culture war between ancient religious traditions and the demands of science, and it has wound up in court. That's our Cover Story, a battle over 9,000-year-old bones. Lucky Severson is our correspondent. Lucky, welcome.
LUCKY SEVERSON: Bob, ever since the Pilgrims first arrived in America and discovered an old burial mound on Cape Cod, European Americans have been fascinated about questions about the original inhabitants of this continent. Who were they and where did they come from? Scientists interested in answering those questions have recently become embroiled in a conflict with Native Americans. It was set off by a discovery last year in the Pacific Northwest on lands that once belonged to local Indian tribes.
On July 28, 1996, two young men walking along the banks of the Columbia River near Kennewick, Washington, found a human skull. Maybe a murder victim, they thought. The county coroner took the remains to forensic archaeologist Jim Chatters.
JIM CHATTERS (Forensic Archaeologist): When I looked at the top of the skull, I thought we were probably dealing with someone of European descent this time.
SEVERSON: Chatters's examination uncovered a small gray object embedded in the bone, an object that proved to be an ancient arrowhead dating back 9,000 years. This meant the skull was one of the earliest Americans ever unearthed, a major scientific discovery -- one that would pit anthropologists against the religious beliefs of Native Americans.
Mr. CHATTERS: We're looking really at a potential change of paradigm and how we view the first Americans. Not so much when they arrived, but what they were like.
SEVERSON: And where did they come from? Along a land bridge from Asia, as most archaeologists believe, or did this Kennewick man come in a different migrations? Studying the remains of the Kennewick man, scientists say, could unlock the answer.
Mr. CHATTERS: The reason it looked like it might be a person of European descent was a long, narrow skull, a somewhat projecting lower face here, with a pronounced canine faucet, a depression right behind the canine tooth that you can barely feel on yourself. Most of us have them.
SEVERSON: Even though its features may be European, local Indians immediately claimed the Kennewick man as their ancestor and demanded their legal right to rebury the remains. For tribal leader Armand Diminithorn, walking through a monument to dead Native warriors, remains of the dead are sacred.
ARMAND DIMINITHORN (Tribal Leader): They always ask us, "Why are you so upset about your Indian burial sites being dug up?" And I always answer that question with a question. I ask, "Well, how would you feel if I went to your family cemetery and started digging up your grandparents? How would you feel?"
SEVERSON: Native Americans have fought for decades for the right to rebury their ancestral remains. Many of those remains found in museums across America were collected and even looted from Indian burial grounds. Anthropologist Duward Walker works with the Umatilla Tribe.