Congress has passed legislation enabling the transfer of the ancient skeleton called Kennewick Man from the federal government to Native American tribes for burial.

The bill was sent to President Obama, who is expected to sign it into law.

Last year, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., introduced a provision to the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act that would start the process of returning the remains to their “proper resting place,” according to a statement released by Murray’s office.

“This victory would not have been possible without the determination, collaboration and leadership of the claimant tribes of the Columbia River plateau, who impressed upon me just how much it meant to them for Congress to end decades of debate and to give them the opportunity to give their descendant a proper burial and a final resting place,” Murray said in the statement.

Experts believe Kennewick Man, discovered in 1996 on federal land along the Columbia River, is nearly 9,000 years old, making the skeleton one of the oldest and most complete found in North America.

Since then, a fierce battle has been fought to have the remains returned for a proper burial by the Columbia Basin tribes, who believed the bones are those of an ancestor. A link to the tribes was confirmed by DNA tests last year and again in separate testing this year.

The provision will transfer the custody of the remains, also known as the Ancient One, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation.

That state department has regulations in place to carry out the repatriation of remains to the tribes, Murray said in her statement.

The Army Corps was expected to repatriate the bones following the genetic testing, but Murray’s legislation could speed the process.

The skeleton has been kept at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington.

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