Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Science vs. Ritual?

BBC News reports:

"After a legal battle that lasted nearly eight years, scientists will finally get to study the ancient skeleton known as Kennewick Man..."

"...The tribes who claimed Kennewick Man as an ancestor still do not want the remains studied, though.
"Our goal, our position has never changed," said Debra Croswell, a spokeswoman for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, one of the four tribes involved in the final court decision.
"We still want this individual reburied as soon as possible."
Dr Stafford does not agree: "If somebody else wants to look at it next week, next year, they should be able to come in just like we came in. This thing should be open. There should be no final opinion for maybe even years." "

This is clearly a case of heart vs. head, or science vs. ritual. I'm not sure whether to feel happy about the verdict or disappointed. Studying this skeleton will provide us with so many answers about where we come from, but if a tribe wants it's ancestors to be treated with respect and remain buried why should we say no?

What if scientists needed to exhume your great-grandmother in the name of study? Would you feel disrespected, or would dig up granny in the search for knowledge?

How much knowledge is enough? and will we really draw any important conclusive evidence from this skeleton, or is it just a case of scholars exercising their power in the name of information?

What if they're right and we do find some important conclusive evidence? I think it is important to know where we came from, and any information they do discover may be useful to the very tribes that are trying to prevent this study. Also, if we start putting limits on what people can or cannot study with respect to ritual or religious beliefs, are we not leaving ourselves open to onslaught by fundamentalists? "No, you can't study that monkey because it might contradict my belief in creationism!" I realize I am taking this line of thought to the extreme, but so few are moderate when belief comes into the equation.

In short, I don't know whether this lawsuit was ever a good thing. I really hope that studying this skeleton is worth it.


Blogger nigel said...

As he is tentatively dated at 8400BP many "scientists" believe that to attribute a "tribal affiliation" (or First Nation as descendants of) is unrealistic.

3:38 PM  
Blogger Jay said...

I was hoping to inspire some conversation with you on this topic Nigel. Do you think that the scientists are correct in their thinking, or do you feel we have undermined the wishes of the tribes in this case?

4:57 PM  
Blogger nigel said...

In this case, as in most of life, one cannot parse apart the scientific, emotional, and political agendas. Therefore, while I believe in the value of scientific inquiry I also believe that to pursue "discoveries" in a vacuum is ignorant at best. Often times an intelligent and compassionate conversation will increase the possibility of a compromise being struck where all parties feel they have achieved their non-negotiable goals. For example, these remains could be studied using minimally invasive methods and then they could be returned to the First Nation in whose traditional territory they were recovered. Not ideal for either party but a workable compromise. Historically human beings have proven how unwise it is to define another's identity for them...categorizing others makes us feel safe, in control; however, it can also be a way in which we marginalise and oppress each other. We can have opinions but to force others to accept those opinions/systems of belief leads to a place not one of us should want to go.

ps I knew you were trying to suck me in with this topic you wily blogger you.

9:41 AM  
Blogger Jay said...

That's why I'm not sure I support this lawsuit. After all, the scientists got what they were hoping for not by talking it out and reaching a compomise, but by strong-arming the tribes with the justice system.

Question is: What do you do if talking it out doesn't work? If neither side is willing to discuss compromise do you bring in the law then? Can there ever be a result that all parties are happy with?

PS- Happy for your comments Nigel, as always

2:57 PM  
Blogger nigel said...

I don't know the answer to your last question...from my experience the better way to compromise is through negotiation, discussion, as opposed to litigation. The judicial and political systems cannot work independently from one another. And a culturally relative process must be developed in contrast to our current, Eurocentric methods.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Jay said...

So essentially you agree with what I was trying to say: Not sure whether this whole thing was well executed as to ensure a positive outcome.

at least that is what I was trying to say.

3:27 PM  

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