Archaeology and Native Americans

Last week I attended the Society for American Archaeology 78th Annual Meeting in Honolulu, HI. Over the last five years there has been a concerted effort to include the voices of Native Americans through collaboration and scholarships for native students interested in archaeology. This has been very apparent at the meetings. The opening session on Wednesday night began with an welcome by native Hawaiians. Requests to have representatives from local native cultures has been a part of the meetings for the last 5 years or so. While it should have been a part from the beginning, this is a thoughtful gesture that is respecting the views of many native groups to ask permission to enter their lands.

After the welcome, a panel of six speakers from indigenous societies from North America, South America, Australia, and Hawaii talked about their experience in archaeology, their research, and their views on the relationship between indigenous peoples and archaeology. The stories and research ranged from continued resistance and ignorance from archaeologists to productive and helpful collaborations. Perhaps the most interesting was by Peter Nelson, a Miwok archaeologist, who discussed his relationship with elders in his community upon proposing his project. There were differences in public vs. private support for his research, and it required building trust over a long period of time to create a useful and productive research plan. It is a good lesson for everyone interested in collaborative research.

Although several of the panel members described failures in the relationship, I have seen significant changes in the meetings and participation by Native Americans in archaeology even in my short career. Clearly, more needs to happen, but I believe we are headed in the right direction. The Native American Scholarship fund and invitations for participation by Native peoples are a good start.

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