An Archaeology of Redress and Restorative Justice
Archaeologists and heritage professionals whose work overlays histories of colonialism, exploitation, collective violence, and genocide are increasingly aware that they cannot simply take refuge in prehistory to avoid troubling pasts; nor is it sufficient to merely acknowledge historical wrongs. And yet scholars often struggle to identify ways that archaeological and heritage work can make a meaningful impact. In this webinar, we explore how archaeology can not only identify the legacies of inequity, injustice, and violence that have shaped historical and contemporary communities, but also to open the possibility of redress for the continuing systemic inequities these legacies reveal (i.e. environmental racism, racialized disenfranchisement, heritage erasure). Panelists will discuss how they blend archaeology and heritage work with principles of redress and restorative justice.
Mary Elliott, Curator of Slavery, Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)
Sada Mire, Ph.D., Director, Horn Heritage Organisation
Kisha Supernant, Ph.D., Director, Institute of Prairie and Indigenous Archaeology, University of Alberta
Michael Wilcox, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Stanford University
Margaret Bruchac, Ph.D., Coordinator, Native American & Indigenous Studies, University of Pennsylvania
Revisit the discussion (and others):
Society of Black Archaeologists via Twitter: @SbaArch
Indigenous Archaeology Collective: @IndigArchs
Cornell Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies: https://archaeology.cornell.edu/
SAPIENS via Twitter: @SAPIENS_org
Brown University’s Joukowsky Institute Archaeology: @brownarchaeolog
Sponsored by the Society of Black Archaeologists, Indigenous Archaeology Collective, Brown University’s Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, Cornell Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and SAPIENS.
From the Margins to the Mainstream: Black and Indigenous Futures in Archaeology
>> ADAM SMITH: Welcome, everyone, we’ll let just a minute or two go while everyone files into this webinar.
Welcome again, everyone. We’re just going to give it another few minute while everybody files in.
>> ADAM SMITH: Welcome, everybody, as you can see, people are still filing in. I want to remind everyone that during the course of this webinar, you’re welcome to use the Q & A function in order to pose questions and to up‑vote questions by other attendees. Now it’s time for us to get started. Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today’s installment of this webinar series entitled from the margins to the mainstream, Black and Indigenous futures in archaeology, I’m Adam Smith, Director of the Cornell Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies one of the sponsors of this series in collaboration with the Society of Black archaeologist, Indigenous Archaeology Collective, Wenner‑Gren Foundation and SAPIENS, made possible by the generous support of Institute for Archaeology at Brown University. This conversation the third in our series, is entitled an archaeology of redress and restorative justice. In the coming months additional installments will address topics from storytelling and cultural stewardship to archaeology epistemology model in Black and Indigenous communities.
Before we begin, I want to acknowledge that I am attending this discussion from the campus of Cornell University located on the traditional homelands of the Cayuga Nation, members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, their historic presence on this land, which precedes the establishment of Cornell University, New York state and United States of America. I want to honor the ongoing connection of Cayuga people, past and present, and connected to the places that you occupy.
Our moderator today is Margaret Bruchac, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Coordinator of Native American and Indigenous Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and a Consulting Scholar to the American Section of the Penn Museum. Welcome, Margaret.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: (Speaking Abenaki). Where I am today in Massachusetts, I thank you for being here today, I hope you enjoy listening.
(Speaking Abenaki language). Stay well. Travel well.
>> ADAM SMITH: Professor Bruchac will leave the conversation with our five distinguished panelists. Mary Elliott, curator of slavery at the Smithsonian’s national museum of African American history and culture. Welcome, Mary.
>> MARY ELLIOTT: Good afternoon, everyone, it’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of this very important panel. As you stated, I work at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, having co‑curated the Slavery and Freedom exhibition and contributed to The 1619 Project of the New York Times and it’s a pleasure to be here and I look forward to the conversation.
>> ADAM SMITH: Unfortunately, Sada Mire has not been able to join us due to internet problems, we’re hoping we can get her on the line soon. Sada Mire is the Director of the Horn Heritage Foundation and we look forward to hopefully welcoming her into the conversation as it develops. Kisha Supernant and Associate Professor in anthropology and Director of the Institute of Prairie and Indigenous Archaeology at University of Alberta. (Speaking Cree language).
>> KISHA SUPERNANT: Hello, everyone, I am coming to you from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, homeland of the ‑‑ nation and I’m very happy to be here ‑‑ at the Métis nation and very happy to be part of the conversation and looking forward to the conversation.
>> ADAM SMITH: Michael Wilcox, Stanford University. Welcome, Michael.
>> MICHAEL WILCOX: (Speaking Quechan language) I’m speaking to you from the San Francisco Bay area and I’m pleased to be a part of this panel and looking forward to our discussion today, speak from the Muwekma Ohlone tribe, San Francisco. Our moderator.
>> Greetings again. We’ll be talking about archaeologists, heritage professionals, museum professionals and people whose work overlays histories of colonialism, exploitation, collective violence and genocide which means we cannot escape the continuing legacy of genocide. Increasingly not just archaeologists and museum professionals are becoming aware of the fact that we are living not in a post‑colonial world but very much in a continuing colonial world and these troubling pasts are sometimes addressed through redress sieve and restorative measures and sometimes these pasts continue to haunt us, whether they’re here in the narratives we tell and stories we tell and even in the way we extend those colonial narratives deep into the past so that the people we are finding in the past are then seen through the lens of colonialism in the present. So what I am hoping we’ll share with you today these are our goals, is to talk about and untangle, to grapple with these problems and these issues but also to come up with some very productive suggestions for how our work can make a meaningful impact, how archaeology is not rescuing what is irreparably fractured and gone forever, but can be a restorative and collaborative and healing process.
In today’s webinar we’ll explore these legacies of inequity and justice and violence and we will hopefully as I say come up with some new suggestions but that being said I would like to launch us right into discussion by throwing out the first question, and question is this, in the past the politics and practice of archaeology have been inextricably entangled with colonial domination, colonial settlement, historical erasure, dispossession and misrepresentation, not just in the collections but in the museum and educational works and scholarship. This is especially true with regards to the collecting and display of materials, sites, bodies, beliefs, and everything quite literally everything we longing to Indigenous, African American, marginalized populations, people of color, the people who have been archeologized and who themselves are on display and in absentia voices taken away by the profession. So given this history, is it possible to be objective? I put this question out to our panelists. I will have to call on you if you don’t speak up.
>> KISHA SUPERNANT: I’m happy to start if that works for everyone.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: Kisha, please do.
>> KISHA SUPERNANT: The question of objectivity I think is a really interesting place to start our conversation, because in my experience, you know, we’re often trained as archaeologists to be objective, right? To study the objects of the past using methods drawn from scientific histories. But I see objectivity as something that has been use as a tool of the oppressor, it’s a way to distract one’s personhood from what one is studying, to say that you can somehow remove yourself from the objects of study, I mean, objective, that is sort of the root of what we’re getting at here.
And as an Indigenous woman who studies my own past, I cannot objectify the belongings of my ancestors. They are not somehow separate from myself as an analytical category. They’re not something from which I can be divorced. And the way I was trained would suggest that that’s a weakness in understanding the past, and I actually think it’s actually a great strength to be able to understand sort of my own position in relation to those so‑called objects of the past.
So I actually feel like to be objective is to be in a position of privilege because you don’t have to live the interconnectedness of these violences and these histories every day and the in work that you do.
>> MARY ELLIOTT: So I would say that how I came to my job is through doing, I was doing family history research, and it turned into a larger history research project which opened up opportunities for me to work with history and cultural organizations. My dissertation involves some of that family history research. And it informs how I think about and look at this history and that includes looking at how to bring the voice of marginalized communities forward, my family being African American descent and having some Indigenous connections as well, and that also helps with the way I look at how to prioritize collecting. And what to collect. Because oftentimes there have been collections that have been disregarded as not having any significance, but they speak to a lived experience. And I know as a person from these communities that this object can tell a more inclusive story about American history, and it could be seemingly mundane, but that mundane piece is attached to an individual who has an American experience that adds to our understanding of this history.
So I can be objective about it to look at it in the sense that this tells us about American history, but on a personal level, I have a deeper understanding as to why that piece is significant. So I think you can be objective, but I agree wholeheartedly with what Kisha said in that sometimes that objectivity is used as a way to dismiss some history that adds to our understanding of this American experience. So people dismiss African American family genealogy, right? And yet it tells us about history, which is why so many people are looking at shows like African American Lives with Henry Lewis Gates and all these other shows, because it informs us about these lived experiences and they’re very personal and they are part of our American story.
>> MICHAEL WILCOX: Thank you, Mary. That’s really well said. So I work in New Mexico and California and part of the history of those places is a story of violence, colonial violence, and we’ve seen recently in the news two things that speak to this one issue, and the point that I want to make is that there’s no neutral ground in archaeology. There’s no neutral ground. And I don’t mean that there’s ‑‑ I don’t mean to play into the false dichotomy of archaeology as science and archaeology as Indigenous, but in the telling of colonial narratives, there is no neutral ground, and our failure I think to confront violence, colonial violence in New Mexico has led to this blank space in which misinformation rushes in and we saw some statues being torn down around the country, those sentinels of narratives are actively enacting these colonial narratives as these kind of bloodless places where people just accepted things that happened and the choice of what we choose to study is interesting in colonial New Mexico and California disease is used as this value‑neutral biological agent of destruction, it requires no moral engagement with the colonial process, it seems to just be out there and it obscures and kind of short circuits conversations that were more impactful on Indigenous peoples, which would be violence, colonial violence in New Mexico. So I’m talking about decolonizing the narratives themselves and also occupying those spaces that as people of color we’re required to tell these stories because they’re true and to not do so is to adhere to kind of false objectivity.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: Well said. I’m going to jump to an audience question that came in because it perfectly fits with this discussion, it’s from our friend George Nicholas. The question is this, if a people’s heritage is essential to a people’s identity and well‑being, a strong argument can be made that the destruction of heritage sites whether by intent or neglect, those charged with protecting them can be a violence by those people, part of this, in preparing for this talk, we discuss this idea of who owns the past and who protects the past, and often there is this assumption that the past belongs to everyone, when, in fact, the past we’re talking about is a past that belongs to the descendants of the people who are interred in those places or who came to those sacred sites or who still come to those heritage sites. So could each of you address this question however you wish, and there’s no particular order, so whoever is moved to speak, feel free to jump in.
>> MARY ELLIOTT: So the destruction, as soon as you asked that question, the first thing that came to mind for me, I think about burial grounds of African Americans, but you know what else I think about? I think about historic communities that were built by African Americans and the destruction that results from gentrification, and the notion that these African Americans, whether these communities were found as early as before the end of the Civil War or immediately following it, African Americans who built these sites and have been stewards of these sites, and this is happening all over, and in they see buildings and walking through those communities, they carry a rich history that oftentimes is erased. Many people of color aren’t the ones sitting at the decision‑making table to be able to speak to why this space matters and why you should not tear down that building and replace it with what I call a historical headstone, a marker, a Black person lived here once, you know.
So that’s a different way of thinking about it. It just instantly came to mind when I think about gentrification. But of course we have to deal with looking at the burial sites all over and what come to mind for me is there are burial sites all over, and unfortunately, African Americans are not always, as many of us, are not always at the decision‑making table. So to be in the position that I’m in working in the museum, it’s imperative to me to draw attention to why these sorts are important and what they tell us about history and why they need to be preserved, to help those community members with their advocating to preserve those historic sites.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: Mary, before we move on, very briefly, can you answer another piece of this question, which is, how is it that African American heritage is now centered in a museum and people think that’s enough and they aren’t seeing urban centers such as you discuss as centers of African American heritage? So how does heritage get museumified?
>> MARY ELLIOTT: Well, I think that we do talk about urban heritage in the museum. We have an exhibition called The Power of Place and that allows us to talk about these sights all over. I hope that’s answering the question. But it allows us to talk about the sites all over that are important and whether it’s a rural site, urban site, whether it’s a burial ground or otherwise, but we talk about that throughout the museum, in Slavery and Freedom and in other exhibitions.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: Thank you.
>> KISHA SUPERNANT: Thank you for this question, George, because I think it gets at some really important issues, and I absolutely think there can be an argument that’s made where destruction of heritage places is a human rights violation and I think the example that you provide of Rio Tinto in Australia is an important one but I think it speaks to something broader which is who determines what is being violated and how, right?
So I think about my own history as a Metis woman and were post contact Indigenous people so we don’t even get to be at the table around discussions around archaeology because our history is lumped in with historic in a similar way that African American and Africa Canadian history is lumped into historic so that our connection to our heritage is not seen in the same way as perhaps precontact histories are seen, and at the same time I think there’s also a lot of diversity in how different descendants may think about their sites and what is sacred about them, what needs to be protected in what ways.
But coming back to a point that Mary made is that we don’t have the power to make that decision. So therefore, you know, ultimately the decisions about what societies need to be impacted in what ways needs to sit with the communities. And because they may not all agree that certain things need to be preserved in certain ways, the idea that all past needs to be preserved in a particular way is also a very colonial understanding. There are some places that are not meant to be preserved, some things that are not meant to be taken out of the ground and protected in certain ways, and there’s other places that absolutely must be for the health and well‑being of those communities.
But we need to be the ones making the decisions about what that is and making the decisions that are best not just for our past but also for our futures, right? There’s so many things that our communities are weighing about what is important and how we want to move forward that I think it’s really to me about who decides, right, about what is a violation and if it’s not the descendants, it’s not the Indigenous nations, it’s not the African American, African Canadian communities, then there’s a lot of potential to do pretty grievous harm but we can’t assume that those decisions are always harmful because they need to be made in community.
>> MICHAEL WILCOX: Thank you so much. I’m going to speak to a slightly different subject and that’s the destruction of traditional sites and in the San Francisco Bay area and in urban setting, so I’m a travel historic preservation officer acting for the Muwekma Ohlone tribe and legal frameworks where Indigenous bodies are discovered in construction projects and that entire process is, in my opinion, is a further violation, it enacts a further violence upon Indigenous bodies. The manner and the way in which those interactions take place archeological sites at construction projects is horrific. It’s not managed very well. It’s traumatic for people who are required to be monitors on those sites. And in one case down in downtown San Jose, 60 bodies came out of the ground, and having to have the tribal members watch that happen every day, because there are monitors every single day, speaks to the failure of this process, for whatever it means, the recognition that those sites are important, that they probably shouldn’t be disturbed, all kinds of things. But the endpoint is also really important to me, which is the reports that are written aren’t ever read by anybody who lives in the tribe. Tribal members don’t read those things. It really makes me wonder about what we’re doing in these spaces, what are these laws for if they’re not speaking to the interests and needs of the community and instead and it’s really ironic, we’re requiring Indigenous peoples to witness the destruction of their villages, historical villages on a daily basis, daily basis. So that’s my perspective on the destruction of sites and Indigenous bodies that this continues to happen and there doesn’t seem to be a way to addresses this issue for tribal members who work in this space.
>> MARY ELLIOTT: I just want to add, since I work for the Smithsonian, it’s a federal entity, and so I think what’s important is when it comes to these sites and the notion of restorative justice is in Curatorial work, yes, you do collecting, you do interpretation, you do exhibition design, but community engagement is extremely vital, and then also showing your support in ways including helping the community think through what to do when it comes to, for example, as Michael said, about when it’s construction projects going on and there is work done and they come across a site and helping people advocate for themselves.
So being there to, as I said earlier, to help people advocate for why certain things should or should not be done with the site is extremely important, and our ability to help leverage this history, to help give voice to the community, is extremely important.
So our work extends out, and that is part of that restorative justice piece. What is the role that we play to help do preservation and help with an ethical approach to dealing with some of these sites.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: Now, there are questions coming in from the audience and there will be a long time at the end of this discussion for addressing those questions, so I’ll go back and forth a little bit, but one very relevant question that came up in response to George’s point is from Snyder, it notes that some, I would argue many Indigenous communities view archaeology as simply destructive. So does an archaeology of redress, which is what we’re sort of trying to conceive of here, acknowledge archaeology’s role in this violence? And that dovetails with the question that we were considering early on, which is, how is violence situated in the discipline itself? Very very foundations of the notion that archaeology is an propria for understanding the past. So if we could use that question and that sort of problem to launch into, I guess the best way to say this is not only is it possible to be objective, not only is there neutral ground, but is archaeology valid as a practice?
>> MARY ELLIOTT: Kisha is looking at me. I’ll just say, look, I think so. I don’t do archeological work, but I rely upon it for the work that I do do. And I think of all communities, but let’s talk about African American communities and the notion of history being hidden, right? So the idea of if I can get at this history that’s been covered over and I’m relying on an archaeologist to help tell the truth, then I think it is important not looking at it like you’re destroying this site, but helping to bring the truth forward. I hope that answers the question, but that’s what I think about in terms of not destroying a site that’s already been violated in the past.
>> KISHA SUPERNANT: So if I didn’t think archaeology could do something in this realm, I don’t think I would continue to be an archaeologist, and I honestly almost had to break up with archaeology about three years ago in part because of these very fundamental questions around what archaeology is for. But I’m still here, and I’m still here for a few reasons. One, I think that we are finding new ways to make sense of the past using methods connected to archaeology which are less in violation of some of the ways of knowing. So a huge part of my research has shifted toward remote sensing, nondestructive techniques or Sara Gonzalez low impact archaeology methods, ways to understand the past without the same kind of destructive or violation kind of framework.
At the same time, I think it’s very important to me and to the people with whom I work in First Nations and Métis communities that there are times which they don’t need archaeologists to tell them about their past. They know their own history and they know that but there are also times where the voices of colonialism including archaeology have deeply disconnected communities from their past, right? Through dispossession, through removal, through all of these things and there is value and I have felt and seen the value of connecting with heritage through the objects and the belongings of the ancestors.
So for me it’s been an incredibly important part of my journey back to reconnecting with my living family is through engaging with the sites of my ancestors and engaging in the belongings of my ancestors. I also see this in working with youth, it can be a really important way for us to tell the stories of survivance and resilience in our communities of showing these vibrant lifeways that contemporary settler societies says we were always victims and in fact we can tell different forms of stories, but we have to do that, from my perspective, we have to do that in ways that are deeply embedded in Indigenous ways of knowing and being, drawing on methods that do derive from science, not it has to be an either on or, but I can take out my ground‑penetrating radar to a site and help my community to see our vibrant history through those means and methods.
At the same time, we do have to account for the histories of violence that archaeology has been a very, very deep part of, right? So we can’t just do it as a feel good exercise without accounting for the violent history and present of our discipline. But I do believe there are ways and this idea of redress and restorative justice, there are ways to use archeological methods, archeological approaches to address some of those harms and to think about different futures.
>> MICHAEL WILCOX: Yeah, thank you so much. I’m thinking about narratives, archeological narratives are something I’m very interested in, and I think our models and our methods, our theories are flawed basically, that any archeological site requires some kind of explanation by the archaeologists. By virtue of their abandonment, every archeological site could be interpreted as some kind of environmental, social or ecological failure. And in telling the stories of sites to the general public, we fall into a trap of explaining in absence all the time. So I try and rework, use archaeology to work backwards from the present to these people who are here and then creating narratives that why we are still here on this planet 500 years after colonization, how does that happen. So I think there is a big value in upsetting those narratives and one would be to look for alternative explanations about what happens in the past. One would be that tribes are very interested in is recovering hidden histories, things that are not well‑known and then giving those, then creating a public platform where this public can earn gauge in those new narratives, in California working with the Muwekma Ohlone tribe, we’re finding missions in the mountains, people continue to flourish in those spaces, creates a narrative between the past and present and the kinds of stories we construct have value to communities in that way and they also have a public facing important value that we can provide for tribes. So creating a website is a great way work with a tribe on create a public‑facing website that talks about these spaces, working in public spaces where you’re telling these stories that are not well‑known have a powerful impact going both wails from the tribal perspective and ‑‑ ways from the tribal perspective and also having the public acknowledge by doing this work. I’m more hopeful than I probably was a while ago.
>> KISHA SUPERNANT: I think we can sit and discuss whether or not archaeology is something of value, but the reality on the ground is that it’s happening all the time, right? And this is one of the tensions which I say as an academic archaeologists, I know that most of my students and most of my colleagues working in cultural resource management where archaeology is mandated to happen based on certain legal structures, and so if we have these conversations, I think we have to engage with these broader settler colonial structures of law that govern heritage resources and even the way we imagine resources, heritage as resources, it’s also really important that we have to remember as we talk through this that even if we agree that it doesn’t have value, it is constantly happening, so we also need to find ways to shift that practice for it to do the least amount of harm, right, until we can actually sit down and have the conversation of when and should it be done and when should it not be done, it is continuing o right, anytime there’s, you know, happening in San Francisco or happening in Alberta when they’re building oil sands or whatever, this is going to happen because of those legal systems and because of those economic systems. So how can we find ways to do it that minimize the amount of harm that it does, and does the most positive work that it can do given those constraints.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: Mary, do you have a thought?
>> MARY ELLIOTT: I was thinking about how sites are prioritized and how African Americans understand the significance of archaeology and what it request do, and we had an earlier discussion and I know it will come up later, but it also goes back to how many African Americans are familiar with the field, let alone in the field. So for me, it’s really a matter of educating African Americans about the role of archaeology and how it will help with recovering history. I think what’s very important is two things I’ve said before, one is how certain things, certain sites or objects are seen as either mundane or insignificant or dismissed, so helping African Americans understand this site is important and it should be researched further so that we can bring forward some of this truth and have it available for the public to understand the role of around Americans in the development of the nation, even if it’s someone’s home that is seen as an average citizen, but is not a Frederick Douglass or Harriet Tubman but still tells a story, and to help people understand what is the role of archaeology so they will then have the notion of wanting to be engaged in the profession itself and to be able to be at the table even to help with prioritizing sites to be researched and to be at the table to discuss interpretation.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: Excellent points. I should note that we are by no means globally representative on this particular panel. We would have a little more global reach with Sada Mire was with us. Justin, is there any word from her? Will she be able to join by voice?
>> JUSTIN DUNNAVANT: No, she will not be able to join us by voice but she did leave a few words, discussion, this topic of community archaeology, she mentioned that there’s different clans and groups in the horn of Africa and more specifically in Somalia where they works and part of the restorative justice work she does and even within these groups there are sort of people considered outcasts and communities considered outcasts and she tries to bring them into these discussions as well. So when we’re talking about sort of people that are marginalized or not brought into the conversation, we’re also including peoples within these communities that don’t always have voice and histories and ancestors aren’t told so I wanted to add those words from Dr. Mire as well. Thank you.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: That leads us back into I’m going to toss this question to Kisha again because one of the projects she’s working on right now that is very much grounded in notions of restorative justice is using ground‑penetrating radar and other methods to locate the burial sites of children who died in boarding schools and it is so true, Mary sort of brought this idea up, this will come up again and again, archaeology heroism, archaeology focused on prominent people from the past that can in and of itself marginalize people who have been the most affected by archaeology and the most damaged by colonial settler violence. So Kisha, can I hand this question over to you?
>> KISHA SUPERNANT: Yes, thank you, Marge. I’m going to provide just a really brief context because I recognize our audience is probably from different places and I’m coming from Canadian context so the lands we call Canada today. Some of the work that I’ve been doing is in response to, so Canada had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission modeled after several in African countries such as Rwanda and South Africa and the purpose behind the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was to tell the truth about the residential school system in Canada and in the U.S. it would have been known as Federal Indian Boarding Schools and the Canadian version of it lasted for 150 years formally but actually had much deeper roots, the last residential school closed in 1996, so in my own lifetime. And in many of our lifetimes. The purpose of the commission was to witness, to listen to the stories, and then to think about how we actually move forward. So move forward to reconciliation.
In 2015, the commissioners released a series of 94 calls to action, and this was to Canadians to act on different elements related to the residential schools in their legacy because it’s been extremely damaging legacy for contemporary Indigenous communities in Canada. Part of one of the ‑‑ well, a set of the recommendations were around locating children who go missing or who died at residential schools. So a very large number, in the thousands of children drop off the records or are recorded as having passed, and their locations of burial are not known. In some cases, the schools had generally marked cemeteries, and other cases there’s possibilities for unmarked burials around that. So in the summer of 2018 I was involved with our National Center for Truth and Reconciliation and the Metis Nation of and University of Saskatchewan and it was designed to locate whether or not there were possible burial locations and ground‑penetrating radar has its limitations, we can never say 100 percent for sure but we can say with varying degrees of confidence that we see burials and my understanding is there will likely be an expansion of this work at some point in the near future because it becomes a really important part of what the government calls reconciliation. Now, reconciliation is a really contested term in Indigenous communities and I think the way we’re framing things here around redress and restorative justice would echo a lot more with how communities think about this work. Right? And the idea that we need to find these children and find ways to support the community as they seek to move forward and to heal from the loss of these children.
It is extremely harrowing work, I find it very, very difficult work to do, very emotional work, but it is so meaningful when communities want to do this because it’s for them, it’s about how do they move forward, how can they possibly account for this injustice and the violence of the past and move forward in a good way.
It also can be really difficult for communities because it can be really retraumatizing to bring a lot of the specters of the past that of course live on but it can also be very triggering. So we try to do this work in as careful ways as possible, recognizing that not all communities can necessarily take this journey yet because it is very painful. But for me, it is an example of how, you know, we can use the techniques of archaeology to lead toward redress and restorative justice. And in some cases, there may even be communities who want to identify the children, right, to see if we can find ways to actually connect them back to their families. And again, archaeologists can support this work for communities, bring that kind of expertise and knowledge to that practice.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: I’ve just been notified that people are curious about my perspective, which I’m happy to add, although I want to make sure I leave plenty of room for my co‑panelists, but for those of you who know me, much of my work in archaeology began as an answer to a rather desperate question, and the question for me was, why are there more dead Native people in the basement of Moc Americas r hall than there are living Native people on the campus of the University of Massachusetts and what I call restorative methodologies came out of my attempt to backtrack through antiquarian collections to reach into the archives at Smith College, Amherst, through the collections throughout the northeast to understand how it happened that the Connecticut river valley which is where I’m situated now is or became a collecting site, became a location where professors from Yale and Harvard and all of these institutions, even local librarians, even local historical societies, even local families would go on collecting expeditions on the weekends and pick up Indian bones to put over the fireplace. So how did this happen? It just struck me as so horrifying and egregiously just wrong. And I did not until that moment want anything to do with archaeology. My first instinct was to run as far as I could from this project. But I realized that what had not happened is that Native communities have been complaining about this for generations. There were Native people who followed professor walking through rows of marked graves looking for prominent individuals to put into his collections, people tried to stop these diggers in the early 20th century and what had not happened from that time until the present is that the institutions that held the remains were not speaking to one another, the archives that had the papers were not sharing them with the archaeologists or the biologists or the anthropologists who were studying the collections, so there was this literal scattering not only a disconnection from Indigenous communities in the present and their human remains and ancestors in the past but a disconnection among the various institutions and individuals who now exerted power over them. And when NAGPRA came into being, it was a federal law that created another level of injustice at the same time it was trying to create restorative justice because NAGPRA effectively said if your tribal community is not federally recognized in the present day, you are no longer legally allowed to reclaim your ancestors unless you can find a workaround with some recognized tribe who might work with you. So there’s a lot I could say on this matter but the gist of it is seeing the violence inherent in the early practice, in the assumption that Indigenous people, people of color, marginalized individuals, were seen as resources for study, as objects for collecting, as disempowered and disembodied people, then seeing the scattering of literal body parts and funerary objects and information in different collections, what I decided to do was to take a dramatic turn and I founded the five college repatriation committee as a way to encourage these institutions to work together, as a way to encourage tribal nations to work together, as a way to get inside thee archives and try to make this information that was necessary available, so that’s why I sometimes joke that I decided to archeologize archaeologists by tracking their patterns and their movements as a way to restore the scattering that they created. That’s enough for me. Michael, are you ready to jump in?
>> MICHAEL WILCOX: Sure. Over the summer we had a problem in the society more American archaeology regarding the University of California’s policy on repatriation and it created a big stir and I think repatriation is actually where I think the rubber meets the road in archaeology today, especially in California where you think well it’s a liberal state, it seems like things would be okay. That’s not the case at all. California has not had to repatriate human remains from museum collections and universities to communities who are nonfederally recognized and it’s created kind of this very strange space in which tribes have had to sit by and watch while collections are returned to other tribes, and within the University of California there are I think 18,000 human remains at UC Berkeley and thank goodness I have some great colleagues from UC Berkeley who are probably on this call right now, but part of our work has been to address this issue of repatriating to tribes who are not recognized.
So I believe in the archaeology of here. Like wherever you work, who can you help? What with you do to help that tribe? How can you help people on their own terms? What does help look like to those people? Not help that I think is valuable, but what is needed? And what is needed might not benefit me professionally or personally. So finding out what tribes need to have done, which may mean helping people sort through or understand repatriation policy, to be active in educating tribes and working with them to take advantage of this very important moment we are in socially and nationally where we are addressing this very issue of Indigenous and African American bodies, violence against those bodies that continues.
And if we have a part to play, that is it. It is to advocate. It is to find places where we can advocate in respectful and collaborative relationships with descendant communities, not as the archaeologist as hero, because that doesn’t work, we know that that doesn’t work, but how can you, wherever you are, help a tribe to deal with this issue? And how can we interrupt the process of violence against bodies that are held in museums, that’s a huge issue, and it’s a re‑enactment of problems, of colonial actions that are ongoing, and I think that’s where we have to find our space as archaeologists is what could we do right now, right here in this moment that we’re in.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: And yet there’s an irony because at the same time we have to be very careful not to caulks the general public to become archaeologists because ‑‑ not caution the general public to become archaeologists because the gap between federally recognized tribal nations, nonrecognized tribal nations, acknowledged tribal homelands and sacred spaces and unacknowledged, in that gap there is a lot of private land, there are a lot of amateur archaeologists, there are a lot of for lack of a better word pot hunters and collectors and then there is also this odd situation that happens where sometimes when a significant site is discovered, it becomes a sort of magnet for every kind of chaos that you can imagine having to do with imagined versions of the Indigenous past. So I’ve actually seen situations where local well‑meaning individuals will jump in on a site that’s been discovered thinking that they are the heroes to save it, when there are already tribal monitors on site quietly and carefully doing their work for cultural resource management, because in many cases, the discourse that is in the general public or in the media is about this mystery, this mysterious Indian past is somehow discovered, and so sometimes the zeal to protect can in itself become a form of erasure and violence, and I think it all has to do with this unequal ground.
So Mary, I’m actually going to throw a question back to you because something has come through, a question from one of our listeners, this is Matobe Matola, who says there is a growing movement in Africa to have artifacts returned to the places where they were stolen from. From an African American perspective, how important is it to have these objects remain in America for heritage information purposes, this is for diaspora community here, versus having them returned to ancestral homeland keeping in mind that some communities in Africa feel that restorative justice is only possible and can only be achieved if objects are actually returned.
>> MARY ELLIOTT: Sorry. I can only speak on a personal level, and I would say that for me, I think that they should be restored and that there are opportunities always to borrow objects from museums and from other repositories and even from communities and my museum is a perfect example of that. We’ve borrowed artifacts from Senegal, the museum in Senegal and community members in Edesto Island so I think the community should be able to claim ownership of their heritage and their material culture, and there are ways to work that out so that it can still be accessible to the public, but they should be able to have control over what happens with that material culture.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: Coming back to one of the questions we discuss as we were putting this panel together, this came from Sara Gonzalez, the question is, what are the possibilities and challenges of establishing data sovereignty, by, for example accident repairing the separation between ethnographic and archeological collections? In a sense, Mary, you’ve just answered that question in a way by saying one can reach out to living communities to borrow objects that are being made in the present that may have a relationship to objects in the past. But Michael or Kisha, would you like to say something to this?
>> KISHA SUPERNANT: It’s always an interesting place to be in these conversations for a couple of reasons. One is that being in the Canadian context we don’t have NAGPRA or equivalent, so institution is nation to nation discussion if it happens at all and there’s no mandate for it but coming back to this question of data sovereignty I think is one of the core issues I see in how we can move archaeology restore and redress forward which is to support exactly what Mary has pointed to which is that communities need to have ownership over their heritage. And in the lands in which I live, we don’t have a federal umbrella for understanding heritage. It all happens at the province level in Canada. I live in Alberta, there’s heritage legislation, which as written the legislation basically makes it illegal for First Nations and Métis communities to actually have ownership over their sites and materials because of the way that it is constructed. And the one exception, interestingly enough, is on reserve lands, what you would call reservations in the U.S., we call reserves, in these places there’s opportunities for Nations to assert ownership over the materials but of course reserves are a very tiny fraction of Indigenous lands, which is the entire country that we call Canada. So I think there’s actually some pretty significant barriers to nations being able to have control, and you can come to agreements, like nations can make agreements with museums about keeping things in their communities and things like that, there are ways to negotiate it, but the default position is one of ownership by the crown in our case, by the province, the default repository for belongings of our ancestors are museums.
And when that’s the default, then it takes sort of extraordinary effort on the side of communities to negotiate agreements around where things go. Then there’s barriers around, well, if we allow you to have control of your heritage objects, then what do you do with them, right? And there’s all these narratives about you have to keep them in particular ways and preserve them in particular ways.
One of the things I’ve been talking a lot about with my community is how do we create ways for our living community to access information about archeological and ethnographic objects held in museum collections. So can we imagine creating, for example, databases that don’t reproduce kind of archeological logics but actually reproduce ways of knowing from the community. So how would my, you know, auntie want to know the objects, the belongings of our ancestors, what would she look for, what kind of categories would make sense to her and reshaping some of the ways in which our communities can access data based on their way of making sense of it versus an archeological way of making sense of it. So I’m work with my community right now to build a portal that centers ways in which we might make sense, which, of course, is for us primarily about family and about place, right? So we want to know where the family were and we want to know what places they were in and that becomes an entryway into all of the artifacts, so to speak.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: I’m going to jump in for a moment because we’re having some very severe weather here and my lights are flickering so I haven’t lost connection yet, but I might. So I’ll leave it to the three of you to talk amongst yourselves, I’m going on make sure all of our windows are closed because things are blowing around, but if I can come back, I will. If you lose me, carry on.
>> MARY ELLIOTT: Michael, do you mind if I say something real quick? The other thick that I think is important to keep in mind too when it comes to museums and other repositories is that sometimes these communities don’t have the resources to preserve material culture, so that’s a very important thing to keep in mind in terms of cultivating trusting relationships that there is an understanding of what the community wants in term of the care of a particular object and that they would be willing to entrust you to be a steward of that object and there’s some sense of reasonable access to the object.
That can be a little tricky because there may be oftentimes people want access, but there’s still something that can be done to cultivate those meaningful, significant, and I have to emphasize, trusting relationships, and that trust can be codified in a document to say here are the standards that we are expecting, and so it helps to ensure that these artifacts can be maintained for future generations. The other part of that is closing the gap on who has access to training and professional experience, so with that, there is, I know with the Smithsonian there are efforts for capacity building and training in the continent of Africa for up and coming museum sites and other repositories so that people have the skill set to be able to do that conservation work and more that goes into preserving these artifacts. Thank you, Michael.
>> MICHAEL WILCOX: Thanks, Mary. Data sovereignty I’m thinking about three things. The first is access to data, how we describe data. That speaks to this disconnection I think between a lot of people of color in the United States and elsewhere and the industry, the business of archaeology, meaning the academic field of archaeology. In recent years, we’ve seen our numbers double, you know, for Indigenous peoples in archaeology, probably a similar kind of growth in the past decade or so with African American people and archaeology, but that’s not even moving the needle and we have to ask ourselves why is that the case, what is it about archaeology that is not attractive to people of color, why are they not going into the field of archaeology? There’s something there that has to be addressed, and it may ‑‑ that’s a big issue for you’re field that’s going on right now, what’s happening internally with our structures of promotion, tenure, acquiring, you know, mentoring students, mentoring faculty of color, there’s something broken in that system. That’s another whole issue.
The second thing of data sovereignty I’m thinking b I work with a tribe who is involved in genomics research with local scientists in California, right? And one problem that the tribe has is in understanding data sovereignty at a tribal level. Like what does it mean to allow an archaeologist to take DNA samples from collections that are excavated from the ground? What rights do you have over the use of that information down the line? What responsibilities does the archaeologist have in human subject protocols, in institutional review boards, where archaeology falls in this weird space where you don’t have to actually pretend that you’re dealing with Indigenous or descendant communities, but you are. And there’s a problem with scientific work that doesn’t deal with that particular problem. So helping tribes to understand what their rights are. People are taking DNA samples out of what are called culturally unidentifiable collections and museums? California, what does that mean? A culturally unidentifiable group may be a tribe that’s not recognized. That’s the nonsense that’s going on where I work. That’s a problem. And then let’s see, the third one, in terms of repatriation, we were talking about what does that mean what, can it provide? Many benefits, but also it may create a terrible burden on a tribe who doesn’t have a land base. If you’re going to return 20,000 individuals from the Hearst museum, where are they going to go? Where is the space? Where is the capacity for that tribe to deal with this issue, and although what level are institutions like universities, museums, state institutions, willing to step forward and allow for that final process to take place?
So the responsibility for archaeologists, like archaeologists in general, may be helping that process along, may be finding, negotiating with a University about the final dispensation of those remains, where are they going to go, not just turn it go over to a tribe and saying here you got your stuff back, here are your ancestors, but what are our ethical obligations to ensure that that process is healthy, that it sustains the community in a meaningful way and that it addresses the injustice that led to the acquisition of those bow in the first place. What else the University doing aside from a performative land acknowledgment. I love them. But where are the meat on the bones? What else are you doing for people of color for the narratives of African Americans and Native Americans in our country?
>> MARY ELLIOTT: I’m glad you said that because one of the things that I think Kisha you brought up about people going onto sites and thinking they could be an archaeologist and look at the site, it was either you or Michael, and what we try to do in doing community engagement is also when we go into certain sites look for a University that could pair up with community members and then also in doing work with that University, bring along the community members in that work. So whether it’s young people from the local high school or, you know, pairing them with a historically Black college, and of course historically Black college or University and pulling in some students from those schools, but making sure that it’s not just an opportunity for a local University, but it also is twofold. It helps members of the marginalized communities.
>> KISHA SUPERNANT: Some of what makes me think about in this conversation is something you already brought up, Mary, which is sort of value. So recognizing there are deep structural barriers of access for Black and Indigenous people of color into educational systems to start with, this is a much broader question than just archaeology, but even when people enter into those systems, we’re not attracting them to the discipline, right? So we’re not representative even of the folks who are moving through our University systems. And I think it comes in part back to Mary’s question about whether or not they see value in the work. Right? How they conceive of archaeology. And certainly in my experience with Indigenous communities, a lot of my Indigenous students are very wary to enter into archaeology because they see, because the violence of its history means that they don’t see themselves as part of it. They see themselves as the object of the study of it, not the participants in it. And, you know, I certainly have had experiences of going in and talking with even within my own community and the reputations that archaeologists have of being grave robbers, of being these very destructive forces is I was a barrier.
So if people of color, if Indigenous folks, if African Americans and African Canadians can’t see how this helps to tell their story from their own perspective, then it doesn’t seem like a welcoming place. And then when you do enter into it, oftentimes, you know, we’re being shaped to do archaeology in particular ways, which may not allow us to tell the stories in the ways that we want. And I hear this again from my Indigenous students and it was my own experience is it took me until I got tenure to really do the archaeology I wanted to do because it was told it wasn’t ‑‑ it was supposed to be a particular model of how we tell the stories of the past, and that didn’t really resonate with my relations in the present and now I’m trying to find ways to navigate through this space that do that, but until we can really articulate that to the young folks to show them where the value sits and what’s possible within the field, I think it’s going on continue to be hard to recruit.
>> MARY ELLIOTT: Those family stories, this goes back to, it’s a give and take relationship. If you have a young person who is learning from an instructor, learning from a professor, a professional archaeologist and they are there to learn but that same person who is instructing, who is training, who is teaching, can also learn from that young person who is a member of the community. So their insights should not be dismissed but should be explored a little bit further because it might add to the way the work is done or thinking about how you’re looking at certain material culture.
There’s a young lady who is working with us on the Slave Wrecks Project working in Africatown, working with the last documented legal slave ship, Clotilda, that we know of in the U.S. and we are working in tandem, the maritime archeological work is taking place while we’re also doing community engagement and designing terrestrial archeological projects that Justin Dunnavant is very much a part of so that’s important about that is Alex has a company or a program called archaeology in the community to address exactly what we’re talking about, Kisha. So we’re looking at creating curriculum for middle school‑age students, high school students, and we paired up with the University of south Alabama so that the teachers, while we’re doing train the trainer, the teachers will get certified as getting a CTE for being trained in doing this classroom work.
So how can you think outside the box so that there are tentacles to the work that we’re doing.
>> KISHA SUPERNANT: Could I make one more point, and of course Michael and Marge, if you want to jump in, really quickly, you made me think about that I also want to create in archaeology any cousin who wants to come in and study and wants to go work in Roman Britain can also do so because I think we get a little ‑‑ obviously for me it’s really important to do the work with my own community and that’s really meaningful to me but I also want to be able to create space for folks who might not want to study our history, right? They might want to go off and do other thing in the field as well. And I think it was on Twitter that Laura was talking a little bit about her ‑‑ the challenges of people getting pigeonholed and that you have to do this thing within archaeology that you’re directly connected to and we also have to make lots of space for folks to come in and do all kinds of different things because those ways of knowing will also inform how archaeology is done in other places because so much of how that archaeology has informed how we do it here in the lands we call North Americas as well. So I think that’s part of our future as well.
>> MARY ELLIOTT: Well, we’re doing that and I don’t mean to cut you off ‑‑ I don’t mean to cut off Marge and Michael, but Kisha got me started. I have to say this, it’s not a commercial, but The Slave Wrecks Project is international network, field sites, all over, so the intent is to take those same young people from Africatown and Mobile, Alabama, to be able to do workshops and sessions bringing young people together we’re working with in Mozambique, Senegal, saint Croix, so there’s this international diaspora conversation about this history and bringing them all together with their own different perspectives and views and learning from each other so it’s a great point, Kisha, you’re right.
>> MICHAEL WILCOX: You know, thank you so much, Mary and Kisha. Those are really great points. I’m thinking what does success look like in attracting people into this feel, people of color into our field? What does it look like? Now, there’s something really inherently interesting in doing archaeology. You can’t open up a test pit somewhere and not have people stop by and ask what’s going on? What’s happening here? If you’re walking and doing a survey, people ask you, what are you up to? So there’s a natural curiosity that people have.
The issue for us is to define what success looks like. Do we want to have more African American and Indigenous people in the academy? That’s one model. Do we want to have people found their own archaeology companies? That’s another. Do we want to help train field workers so that they can be a part of archeological projects and learn about archaeology? That’s one, a little dicey, I think sometimes because the context in which a lot of those jobs take place is in cultural resource management industry or it’s a business, it moves according to the rhythms of a construction site, they can be very frustrating for an Indigenous person to work in. Then finally, young people. I think it’s great if we can have people learn about what we do. Archaeology is this methodology that’s really cool, that’s interesting to do, and defining success on all these different levels will help us to frame out what are achievable objectives. Transforming the field is a big issue. Decolonizing the Society for American Archaeology is a big issue. There’s something going on there that our pathways to professional careers seem to be not attract a lot of people of color into that field. That’s a ‑‑ that’s a real thing to look at. So success can have these different kinds of metrics, different kinds of look to them. And, you know, working with tribes is interesting. You can do weekend projects, you can help students come out and learn a little bit about archaeology and see where that goes, but I don’t think everybody has to become an academic archaeologist to be successful. I don’t think that’s ‑‑ that’s not the pathway for everybody. It’s a hard path. It’s very uncertain. We’re in this space right here in our professional archaeology, it’s dicey, you don’t know where your career is going to go, you can’t always predict what’s going to happen.
So changing that, or broadening out our sense of what success looks like is I think our most helpful attempt at restorative justice, recovering these histories and allowing people to have access to those spaces where they can make their own interpretations of what’s going on and enjoy what they’re seeing just the same way that we do when we first start our careers in archaeology.
>> KISHA SUPERNANT: It looks like we have lost Marge due to weather and I know we had wanted to have some time to answer some audience questions, so if Mary and Michael, if it works for you, we might jump into those a little bit because we’ve been getting a number of them, which is fantastic. And I’m happy to take on a little bit of Marge’s role until she’s able to come back, again, if that works for everyone. The one that’s been most upvoted I think is a really important one and gets at the heart of some of the work of the speaker series, so this is from Ann Cacalu Ross and I would like to hear the panelist opportunities of bringing together African American and Indigenous perspectives on these issues, for example, what intersections do the panelists see on these issues between ongoing colonial violence and ongoing anti‑blackness.
>> MARY ELLIOTT: Well, I’m actually working on a symposium that should take place in 2021, so the nice part about working with the Smithsonian, although you don’t have to work with the Smithsonian to do this, the National Museum of African American Culture is working with the national Latino center and national museum of American Indian to talk about these histories so I’m sure archaeology will be part of the discussion, but what’s really imperative in a role like mine is to be able to convene people around some of these subjects and bring together a cross‑section of folks to talk about some of these issues. And to also talk about where our histories ‑‑ you know, our histories all intersect, you know, but just to find some key points, moments in time and sites and experiences that we can raise up and explore together.
I want to add to that when we talk about marginalized communities and even thinking about like if we took the site with the dismal swamp and we know that there were Indigenous people in that area and then you see African American people go into the area and repurpose some of the material culture that was already there and how do we interpret some of that material culture and we talk about the dismal swamp in our exhibition, but I say this because we talk about marginalized communities and this may sound like a stretch to some folks, but even when it comes to doing interpretation from the period before the end of the Civil War, thinking about poor white communities. You know, I’m trying to pull that information forward. So I think that’s imperative that we include that as well, and it really does help when you’re talking about bringing together African Americans and Indigenous, we have to paint a full picture of stories that have been disregarded and dismissed because these are all, these are marginalized communities. Maybe not treated with as much violence as we have seen, but still, it is important because these communities have come on top of each other in some respects, and we even talk about that in the section in colonial North America when we talk about Louisiana and the development of that Louisiana region.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: While I’m here I’m going to jump back in, I apologize, we’ve had three power outages now, it’s come back every time, a branch did fall but it didn’t fall on anything, so things are good, but we’re having some pretty severe weather here. My video is going to be cutting in and out, so I apologize if that happens. But what I would like to do is we are at the time for moving into audience questions, and I’ve been trying to field a few as we’ve gone along, so I apologize if I repeat anything you might have said.
But one question I was trying to get to when the power went out the first time around was really meaningful in talking about this like global approach to this, and it’s from Julie Gach who says hello, I’m a aboriginal person from Tazmania and find this discussion very useful. We have many issues including the aboriginal heritage Tazmania department which is mostly fixed or forced into the role of resolving, quote, unquote, problems and issuing quote, unquote, permits to destroy to developers and governments. Meanwhile, heritage Tazmania also a government department is for nonaboriginal heritage and focuses on protection and supported and celebration, festivals, heritage week, et cetera, of nonaboriginal mainstream heritage sites. This mirrors how aboriginal history, stories, experiences are often regarded as difficult and an uncomfortable problem here. And I would say that happens elsewhere. She goes on to say that mainstream valued history has found another difficult cultural experience in people here to value instead, the convict transported colonial history and places and stories.
So this is not to argue with Mary’s point, but to sort of amplify that point, is who decides which marginal communities get attention and what are some of the things we can do to make that process more collaborative, more interactive, more valent, more multicultural but yet not in any way marginalize any important history ‑‑
>> KISHA SUPERNANT: To me it’s always about the sort of systemic issues of settler colonialism and racism, white supremacy built into many of these colonial contexts.
It means white people as well as participants in race in America, that is the part we often do not deal with and do so at our own peril because we locate people outside of these processes, we locate poor white people out of the process and a system that affects everybody, we can’t have 12 and a half people coming into the new world from Africa and not talk about those people who brought those people into the Americas, we can’t talk about those things in the same way. Those histories are very important and I’m looking forward to reading and doing more with SBA, I think that’s been a fantastic learning experience for me and being open to retraining myself, taking old, stale ideas and throwing them behind and engaging in these new moments of opportunity.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: Those of you that know the University of Pennsylvania, aware of the Morton collection at the museum and it’s treated differently based upon what we’re talking about, so the Indigenous crania from Native Hawaii and elsewhere are governed by NAGPRA and museum working methodically through but no federal law governing the nonindigenous crania so ironically with a system like NAGPRA in place it gives prominent to particular categories of individuals that have literally nothing to do with the relative level of violence. So I would like to move on to another question, again, I apologize if there’s repetition here, but I am trying to field some of these audience questions and some of them are grappling with the same topics, they go back and forth, and one is about the notion of heritage resources. So Mark says that the very concept of heritage resources is part of the problem, resources is a term freighted with capitalism and as you’ve said archaeology is embedded in a systemic racist system of colonialism. So he says resources are exploitable justifying commodification of heritage. I believe we must change our language in order to begin changing mindset surrounding heritage. Heritage inheritance or some other terminology may be necessary to shift archaeology and museums away from thinking people’s pasts based on economic paradigm. And before you answer that, I would like to give you one more that is also talking about this notion of heritage, William says, how should the ethical principle of stewardship be amended to be supportive in the representations of material culture? Should archaeologists accept materials that may be lost in the restoration of cultural dignity? So archaeologists may lose possession of the things they treasure most. So if you could grapple with these questions of heritage ownership and control.
>> KISHA SUPERNANT: I certainly have things to say but I know Mary you haven’t had a chance to jump in for a little while, so I want to make space for you if you’re ready to jump in, but if you want to ponder a bit more, I’m happy to start.
>> MARY ELLIOTT: I need to think a little bit more but I will say, the first thing that comes to mind for me is, and this is probably just so far afield from what you’re asking about, but I just think about like heritage tourism. You know, and the notion of how much money can we make off of this, you know. So I need to think a little bit more about that, but there was a second part of your question, Marge, that you asked that just went out of my mind, but it was the second half of that question.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: So the second half is this notion of what is the ethical principle of stewardship? Is stewardship the primary ethical principle? And should it be amended to say that reparations are more ethical than stewardship? Should archaeologists accept that they may lose possession of materials as part of restoring cultural dignity to Indigenous or African or original communities? So I think this gets around who owns heritage and how should it be managed?
>> MARY ELLIOTT: I think we talked about that earlier, wouldn’t you say? Part of that ownership and then also working collaboratively with community members, that stewardship part is very important because there are communities that they may have a desire to preserve this material culture but they may not have the rosters to do so so I think that’s extremely important to talk with community members about how best to do that, what is the ultimate goal.
I don’t know that that’s answering the question, but that’s what comes to mind for me.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: Can I toss it over to Michael?
>> MICHAEL WILCOX: I got unplugged there so I didn’t hear the lead in to the question.
>> KISHA SUPERNANT: I’m happy to go.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: Go right ahead.
>> KISHA SUPERNANT: So I think there’s sort of the two pieces. One is heritage as resource and the connections of that to the capitalist system of consumption, and then there’s the stewardship piece. And they’re of course related. So I would like to talk a little bit first about heritage as a resource because I think it’s very much, you know, archaeology is an extractive industry, right? We extract things from the earth and then they get commodified in a different way than other commodities in that they’re not monetized and we’re against selling them, but we like to put them in museums and study them and many many ways archaeologists make a living off of them even if we’re not buying and selling them, so they become part of the system of capitalism and commodification. I do think changing our language around it is important. I also think that there’s an arbitrary divide between tangible and intangible heritage that we need to complicate, and I think of like the work of the IPAND project in some of this complicating of division because to say that the object itself is tangible and then other things like songs and stories are intangible belies the fact that they’re all part of cultural heritage, and we might say other descendant communities have the right to make decisions about their heritage and this relates to stewardship because there are absolutely times when communities want to protect and steward and preserve elements of the past, there are equally times where communities do not, right? I think about house post and is mortuary poles, what we call totem poles at museums, they are not designed to be preserved. To preserve them is to go against their cultural values. So I think that the harder part actually for a lot of archaeologists and related professional groups is this idea that we don’t possess them and we shouldn’t, right? That it should be communities who decide if they discuss to enter into a relationship where we can help to care for those, you know, ancestors’ belongings, objects, in a way that makes sense that they want to do but can’t, that’s one thing. But again, I think it’s a question of where does it start with? Right now it’s a default that that’s ‑‑ that archaeologists have the right to study the past. Who gave us that right? Right? Who did? Where does that right come from? And that’s the same thing with stewardship. We’re doing it for the good of everyone. Well, but many Indigenous communities don’t see that as a good, they see that as a harm. So we need to change who makes that decision, right, and who is able to decide what should be stewarded, what should be preserved for and cared for in which ways and museums can play a really important role in helping communities with those goals but also maybe say maybe these things need to go back into the ground and decay and that’s okay.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: I’ll jump in briefly here, some states still do a process of separating human remains and funerary objects, for example, Massachusetts was fairly proactive in the 1980s in terms of wanting to return and allow communities to rebury unidentified Native American remains that were found, but the state as a matter of practice kept the funerary objects and I have seen this in so many collections even when there is supposedly ethical archaeology going on where things are sorted and separated in ways that are themselves an act of violence and are really difficult to repair and I’ve also unfortunately seen cases where there have been repatriations that are partial and what do you do once you discover that you’ve reburied part of someone and their funerary objects are still somewhere else? That’s another of these problems that results from the kind of, as you mentioned earlier, the kind of categorization, the kind of attention that is paid to these attention paid to these institutions and museums that does not align to the original communities. Michael, I think I might have cut you off. Are you ready to jump in?
>> MICHAEL WILCOX: This is a really deep topic here, repatriation and what heritage means to different groups. One argument that I’ve heard archaeologist and is museum workers, museum administrators make is, well, this group of Indigenous people doesn’t want ‑‑ wants their stuff returned and reburied, but maybe in the future another population who is more amenable to archeological practices might be more friendly to what we’re doing here. That’s one kind of wordsmithing way like a strange thought process that goes on with some museum people. I’ve seen terrible things happen, I’ve seen tribes be required to perform the rituals to satisfy the requirements of people who want to repatriate things. I could tell you, you know, where that happened. But I think we have to be open to the idea that, you know, when we return things, it’s part of a longer process, and I want to talk about this again, which is the idea that the intangible heritage we’re talking about when we do repatriation involves landscape, landscape involves returning things on a place where the people and ancestors can be safe and the ceremonies are involved in returning ancestors to the ground, to the earth, require us to think about landscape in a different way. Landscape as part of the archeological process, not something that we put things back into, but as a whole, like a holistic frame in which we can evaluate what restorative justice, what healing looks like for Indigenous communities, what does it mean to return things? Can we help tribes to acquire property, to facilitate repatriation? Is that a possibility?
And can we use existing land access areas and contracts, easements, land trusts, to allow tribes to have access to ancestral landscapes? So I try and think not about artifacts and bodies as something different from landscape and the importance of landscape in this entire loop of repatriation of restorative justice. What does that mean? It means allowing people to have access to land. Indigenous people, people of color do not generally as a rule visit state parks, it’s a problem that the park service has been dealing with for a long time. It’s not a population that feels welcome in those spaces. And part of what repatriation restorative justice means is opening the door to tribes to have access to those spaces that they’ve been removed from. So people, landscape, objects, all kind of mix together when we talk about what that might look like.
>> KISHA SUPERNANT: Yeah, I think that’s a really important part, Michael, and one of the things that’s been really informing my research in general is this idea of a kinscape which is the idea that it’s all in relation, water is relations, land is relation, belongings of the ancestors is also a relation, so to bring them back into the webs of relations is part of redress, is part of healing because they’ve been removed often forcibly and violently from the webs of relations, with the ancestors, you’re right, not to just put them into the earth, it’s actually to reweave that landscape into the relations and into the way of how they are. Recognizing that different descendant communities will have different wails of understanding what that looks like is so important, right? So that works well in my context. That might not work well for African American communities, they may have a different vision of what that healing looks like, maybe it is sending things back to homelands, right, or connecting people back with homelands. But we need to make space for us to be able to determine what that actually means and looks like, right? Redress and restorative justice has to be determined by the survivors of that violence, right? We have to be the ones to say that’s what it means to us.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: Kisha, you actually just answer understand the question I was about to pose from one of our audience members, saying what role do you see a heart‑centered approach playing in cultural resource management and restorative justice archaeology? So if anyone else would like to answer that question. Is.
>> MARY ELLIOTT: Can you repeat the question, Marge?
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: Sure. What role do you see a heart centered approach playing in cultural resource management and restorative justice archaeology? So to what degree is this a healing process?
>> MARY ELLIOTT: So we’re working in Africatown right now in Mobile, and they’ve identified the slave ship Clotidla that came into the U.S. in 1860, and the community that’s borne out of the people who survived that forced migration, Africatown, the descendants still live in that community, and the state of Alabama has set aside money to raise some of the relics out of the water. And we’re doing community engagement at the same time that we’re looking at raising those artifacts out of the water.
But the whole time that we’re doing this, the Alabama historical commission, the state Senator and community leaders are all in conversation about what they want to see happen. We had a press conference where we announced that the ship was found and immediately following that we had a descendants festival program that followed it, and there were some rituals that were performed to talk about this heritage as a source of memory but also a source to educate the young people as well as educate the larger community. So I think what’s really important there is that there is an intention behind how this work is being done, that at every turn the community is part of the conversation, and I have to speak to what Kisha said earlier about who gets to say what happens. And I think that the community should be at every turn the community should be the ones that say, you know, we, for example in this case, they are very much the ones who are driving whether artifacts from the ship will stay in Africatown or be moved to downtown Mobile, Alabama, or if they want it to even go to our museum. And we’ve had people who individuals in the community who say we would like it to go to your museum. But I knew there that that’s one individual and the community is made up of more than just that one individual.
So we’re very sensitive to that, and I appreciate that the folks down in Mobile are actually very sensitive to making sure that this community that has been marginalized for so long, as many have, that they have a say in every step of the way. And it’s also expands out to the legacies of this history. So they’re also working with them with changing the environment there based on the industrial encroachment and environmental racism that all stems from these, you know, from the period of slavery.
>> KISHA SUPERNANT: So the heart‑centered practice I think is a really important one. I’m just going to hold it up. We wrote a book, Archaeologies of the Heart, it came out this year so I had the great pleasure of work with Jane Baxter, Natasha Lyons and Sonya Atalay in this beautiful volume, but all engaged and care about archaeology are human and have, you know, it goes beyond the mind, the kind of analytical frameworks into how this affects hearts and spirit. So one of the things I think a lot about is the kind of spiritual impacts that archaeology has had on my community and how we relate to not just the physical but also the incorporeal elements of what it means to be human, so we’re taking a more holistic approach to our understanding of self in this so as humans we’re affected by archaeology in different kinds of ways, and that allows us to listen to how other people are affected. So even if I don’t feel that particular way at a site or I don’t experience something, say I’m walking through Africatown, I don’t have the same visceral experience of Africatown that someone who is descended from the enslaved Africans who were there did or descendants, I can give that experience value and say maybe that experience is more important than mine, right? And they need to be the ones who make determinations about what happens in this place because they have a much deeper connection to it. To me, that’s a heart‑centered approach to recognizing that.
I think it’s harder in a CRM context to enact that because again of the constraints and structures of how ‑‑ CRM is treat as cultural resource management, treated as a resource, not doing heart centered practice. It’s more difficult, I would say.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: Another audience question relates to what you said, writing, Dr. Audrey Horning suggests archaeologists created their own version of the hippocratic oath, what do you think of this, what might this look like for compliance archaeologists and within the academy? Here I would like to hand it to Michael to think about what is an archaeology listening and is this necessary?
>> MICHAEL WILCOX: Thank you, that’s a great question. I think it works against the impulses and drives that are active in academic archaeology, which means that you’re not the focus of things, that we are required to listen to other kinds of voices, to listen to other perspectives on things, and that we have to be open to the idea that we don’t always know how these things are going to manifest themselves.
I think the second participate of that question I didn’t ‑‑ second part of that question I didn’t quite hear. Can you say that again?
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: What might this look like for compliance archaeologists and within the academy?
>> MICHAEL WILCOX: It’s a great question. One thing that if you work with Indigenous communities you quickly learn that my objectives are not often in alignment with the objectives of the tribe. They just aren’t. I am required in many points in working with the tribe to not monetize through writing academic writing the information that I am acquiring, which means that in a way I’m working for someone in a service position, which is dicey, it’s working in that capacity requires a different set of ethical engagements, but being an academic means you have a different set of responsibilities. Responsibility to the field to talk about what you’re seeing, what you’re finding, and that those two are common ‑‑ are often at odds with one another. And putting those things together means that we have to think about actively in our work how to negotiate those two impulses, those two movements that are parallel to one another, how do we communicate to tribes about what we need to do, how do we tell them look, I have to have this project finished by this date, it has to be done in this way, I’m working on this publication, can you help me with this? That may not be a very much ‑‑ that may not be of very much interest to a tribe. What may be much more interest is, can you spend the next five weekends out teaching young people? Can you do that? I’m not going to get any real monetized benefit from that in the academy. People might not even know about that. I’m not speaking about myself. I’m looking at people who I know who do this. And I’m wondering, you know, how we can create a system that recognizes those parallel obligations that we have. And service to the community is not service to self. It decenters the academic person, the archaeologist. So I’m not the center of what happens. I can facilitate interactions for other people to connect with one another, but I don’t always have the right to write a book or an article about it.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: I feel the same way about much of the research I do in museums because I’m often inside a museum collection looking for someone’s cultural heritage at which point I come across some other person’s tribal heritage in which case I feel personally obligated to tell them and I do even if that’s not what I’m there for, so those of us who practice not what I would like to just call Indigenous museology, whatever term, we are aware first and foremost that we are in the position of being liaisons between the institutions that hold people’s cultural heritage and the communities we work for. And the communities we work for and are most committed to are not always our academic communities. We have an obligation to our academic communities, but I think sometimes we have deeper responsibilities to the communities we’re trying to find some way to recover from or address violence that is still ongoing in many cases and sometimes ongoing in the collections itself.
It’s also a challenge when teaching students because often students are taught to be extractive. They are taught to go out and find something and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve advised my graduate student, sit down and talk with someone before you decide to use anything they tell you so that you have a relationship first, and then you negotiate together what they are sharing, but whatever you do, do not start by making your informant your ethnographic subjects because that can go so badly. And even if they are, you still need to negotiate it.
So that being said, there are two linked questions here from the audience and they are both from Tyler Ray Hanegan and they are about how museums represented objects. So the questions are, when the general public visits places like the metropolitan museum of art, they see material culture displayed with minimal background material. This leads the public to see cultural heritage as artistic commodity without encouraging reflection about how those objects came to the museum. And the second half of this question is, how can art museums better exhibit material culture as part of a collective framework and not just a fetishized or commodified artistic object ‑‑ whoever is ready, jump in.
>> MICHAEL WILCOX: That’s a great topic and I’m thinking about art and the role of museums in preserving objects, and the frame I use is that the presence of an object increases in value if the perception is that that thing can no longer be made. So the value of the object increases with the absence of the Indigenous person.
The and idea is that if Indigenous peoples are no longer here to make those things, then the value of that thing goes up. So how do you deal he with the fact that some objects are objects of art, they’re beautiful, they’re gorgeous, and they’re in private collections, and how do you talk to a private collector about what that object might mean to a community? There are different valences of this these things, art collector might see aesthetic qualities and want to possess that thing but for a community those objects may have a much deeper resonance. An example. Objects don’t often have to be beautiful to be appreciated by Indigenous communities and for people to be very deeply impacted by that. I’m thinking of the shackles that are from the slave ships that have been excavated. They’re not beautiful. They’re not aesthetically pleasing, but they are powerful objects of cultural patrimony for African American people. That object has a meaning, a resonance, a valence, a deep, deeply held ability to affect people’s understanding of things. When you see those objects, you have a different sense of value. So these different values of an aesthetically beautiful object, southwest has great pottery, California has great baskets, beautiful baskets, but those things mean more to people who are trying to move towards the recovery of the technologies and methods that created those objects. So I think Svef Hawkinson does a great amount of work in mask making in Alaska community, collected masks from all around the world brought them back to these communities and reignited this artistic tradition that benefits communities monetarily and also spiritually. So that’s the hope that I see with thinking about objects in different ways, and also maybe convincing, I don’t know if we can find a way to convince people to maybe do permanent loans with some of these objects that probably shouldn’t be in private homes and collections that no one sees. I hope that answers the question.
>> MARY ELLIOTT: Are you calling me, Marge?
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: No, we’re looking at time. Peter, do we need to close at this point? We need to leave just a few minutes at the end for Peter to make some closing remarks because we’re closing in a5:55. I’m not hearing from Peter. Mary, please go ahead.
>> MARY ELLIOTT: When we acquired the slave cabin from South Carolina we worked with a geneology to help us connect with the descendant community and every time that we were there to dismantled the slave cabin, we spoke with the descendants and descendant not being a buzzword just for Americans but it was the descendants of the enslaved and the enslavers so it was very powerful to get their conversations across with each other to listen to them talk to each other, but also to hear what they had to tell us.
And in looking at a slave cabin, for example, the one that we have and thinking about the interpretation, having those community voices inform how we interpret the object itself. One of the things that came up was when we talk about gardens growing on the side of a cabin and there’s this notion of, you know, some people looking at using gardens for conjuring, right? Using materials out of the gardens for conjuring, but you also have to keep in mind that it’s also used for nutrition and for homeopathic purposes, right? So being able to understand the relationship to the environment itself, to the object itself, and just the notion of the value of these material, this material culture. So it was imperative for us whenever we do this collecting that we speak with the collectors but also with the community members associated with the material culture itself because again, it informs us about how we interpret it. And with regard to getting deeper dive into the information that’s shared with the public, you only have so many words you can put in a label. So it’s imperative that we try and hit our mark in the labels and bring forward those priority points but also in our digital records that researchers and the public will access as well as when we document it in our justifications when we bring it into our collections committee so that there’s a full record that includes the voice of the community members. As much as possible.
>> MARGARET BRUCHAC: Let’s close there because we need to leave a few moments for Peter with closing remarks. But thank you all for this wide‑ranging discussion, and as I said at the outset, I hoped that we would provoke and grapple with these issues and also come up with some possible models for what restorative justice and redress might look like and we’ve done that in case histories throughout. Peter, I hand it over to you.
>> PETER VAN DOMMELEN: Thank you very much. The conclusion, it has to bring an end to what’s been really a great discussion and a wonderful debate, and but there has to be a conclusion.
I’m speaking here, my name is Peter van Dommelen in my role as Director of the Institute for Archaeology in the Ancient World who are sponsors to this webinar and it is my role, really my pleasure here to thank our panelists and our moderator who have made that webinar very fantastic experience, very lively, very informative, despite weather and all IT problems and weather that cropped up. It’s been a wonderful discussion and underscored the importance of redress and restorative justice. It has become very clear that it’s a very wide ranging field, many facets of issues involved there, systemic problems as well that are not limited to one specific country, to one specific group or one sort of dimension. And inclusion I think is a keyword that came up in many ways, removing obstacles to access, access for people or access to heritage and many other aspects. From the questions that were asked and the discussion, it’s become clear that listening as we’ve been doing here to a wonderful debate, that sort of very important part listening to each other, many of the questions that came from the audience pointed at, where do we go from here, what next, and I think educating ourselves such as this webinar is one important part of it but also taking up these aspects this our work when we go into the field, into classrooms, into storage rooms, into museums, daily practices as well as long‑term goals.
And to realize as mentioned more than once, the Society of Black archaeologists and the Indigenous Archaeology Collective have played an important role in this. So supporting and joining them is a great step in that. But also their important part for what comes next. As was mentioned at the beginning here, this webinar today’s discussion has been part of what’s now become a monthly series of events that examines various aspects of archaeology and racial justice and that is sponsored by as I said the Society of Black Archaeologists, Indigenous Archaeology Collective, SAPIENS and the Wenner‑Gren Foundation as well as consortium of archaeology centers across the U.S. As today the first Wednesday of the month, that is when the seminars take place every month, but there’s going to be one exception and that is for next month, so I want to underscore that. The next webinar will take place not on the first but on the second Wednesday of the month because the first Wednesday is right after the presidential election. So we’ll take that one week later. That is November 11 where the topic of debate will be new stories and storytellers and that webinar will be sponsored by the Cotsen Institute of archaeology at UCLA. With that, I want to thank again very much our panelists, moderator, and of course all of you, everybody joining us from many different parts of the world, as I understood, not just for joining in, but also for actively taking part by asking interesting questions. So thank you very much, everybody, and I hope that many of you will tune in again next month on the second Wednesday of the month of November. Thank you.
(6:00 p.m. EST)
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