It’s just a the­ory

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - THE WEST - COLLEEN SIMARD

IWAS read­ing about some arche­ol­o­gists in Alaska who re­cently dug up an amaz­ing find: the re­mains of an ice-age child dat­ing back more than 11,500 years. What makes this amaz­ing is that they’re the old­est hu­man re­mains ever found that far north.

But whether this ice-age baby was abo­rig­i­nal is a bit of a mys­tery — at least for now.

What arche­ol­o­gists do know is the child was about three years old when he or she died. It isn’t clear how the child died, but the body was placed gen­tly into a fire pit in the cen­tre of a house and cre­mated. Then the pit was filled up and the home was aban­doned. The site is be­lieved to have been a sea­sonal sum­mer home on the shores of the Tanana River in south­ern Alaska. Likely the at­trac­tion was salmon and wild game. Once the find is com­pletely ex­ca­vated, it will paint a vivid pic­ture of the ev­ery­day lives of the peo­ple who lived on the land at the time.

Al­though arche­ol­o­gists don’t know the eth­nic­ity of the child, the shape of one of the child’s teeth led them to be­lieve it is an in­dige­nous child.

But Alaska is home to more than 20 dif­fer­ent tribes of in­dige­nous peo­ple.

It is hoped DNA can be sal­vaged from the bones of the child and it can be com­pared to the DNA of the lo­cal abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple.

A lo­cal in­dige­nous group gave its bless­ing to do the dig­ging, and it’s hoped lo­cal tribes will also pro­vide DNA to see if there is a ge­netic con­nec­tion to the ice-age baby.

This dis­cov­ery — as cool as it is — also stirs up an old de­bate arche­ol­o­gists and most abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple are fa­mil­iar with: the Ber­ing Strait the­ory.

Ba­si­cally, it’s the sci­en­tific the­ory that North Amer­i­can In­di­ans are re­ally Siberi­ans who walked over an ice bridge about 12,000 to 20,000 years ago.

Many an abo­rig­i­nal per­son has got­ten pretty an­gry about this the­ory. Au­thor and PhD Vine Delo­ria at­tacked the Ber­ing Strait the­ory in his book Red Earth, White Lies: Na­tive Amer­i­cans and the Myth of Sci­en­tific Fact. There are many oth­ers, too.

The the­ory is of­fen­sive for two rea­sons. The first is that many abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple see it as an ex­ten­sion of the old rea­son­ing that helped set­tle North Amer­ica in the first place — it was Terra Nul­lius, man­i­fest des­tiny, and all that other stuff.

The Ber­ing Strait the­ory gave peo­ple a free pass, say­ing, “Don’t worry; the land was free for the tak­ing. No­body was here any­way.”

Peo­ple could shrug off in­dige­nous rights be­cause we were then new­com­ers to North Amer­ica too, just like ev­ery­one else.

But it is just a the­ory; a widely be­lieved the­ory, but still a the­ory.

The Ber­ing Strait the­ory is also of­fen­sive to many abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple be­cause it conflicts with our tra­di­tional be­liefs. It’s like telling some­one who’s Catholic that his be­liefs aren’t true.

The con­sen­sus among most abo­rig­i­nal tribes have is that we were al­ways here.

I don’t take much of­fence to the Ber­ing Strait the­ory. Af­ter all, it’s just a the­ory. And I’m not say­ing it’s com­pletely wrong.

Sure, peo­ple could have trav­elled from Siberia and crossed an ice bridge to North Amer­ica. It’s not the com­plete pic­ture ei­ther. If it were, we wouldn’t have arche­ol­o­gists still dig­ging for the truth.

It’s fool­ish to think a con­ti­nent as big as North Amer­ica was un­in­hab­ited un­til then, es­pe­cially when sev­eral years ago, hu­man ar­ti­facts were found in Cal­i­for­nia that dated back some 50,000 years.

Per­haps a few Siberi­ans did wan­der over here. And maybe they met up with the orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants of the land.

With a lit­tle luck, they would have been ac­cepted and joined tribes, had chil­dren, grand­chil­dren and be­come ab­sorbed into the ge­netic tide that con­tin­ues to thrive to­day.

The idea that we were al­ways here could be true. You just have to think out­side the stan­dard pos­si­bil­i­ties that haven’t changed much in decades.

Of course, this is just a the­ory — mine.

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