The Fire This Time: Black and Indigenous Ecologies
In the past year, the world witnessed devastating fire seasons in Australia and the U.S. West, an Atlantic hurricane season with a record thirty storms, and a global pandemic. In each of these cases, among the losses of many, marginalized communities have borne the brunt of cascading environmental catastrophes, experiencing loss of lands and significant costs to community health and wellness. This panel, composed of leading Black and Indigenous anthropologists and artists, considers what it means to confront the challenges of a changing climate alongside the legacies of environmental racism. How does our understanding of past and present ecologies allow us to imagine new ethics of care and responsibility for all of our relations? And what shared obligations do such ethics create for archaeological practice?
Dr. Isabel Rivera-Collazo, Assistant Professor on Biological, Ecological and Human Adaptation to Climate Change, Department of Anthropology and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego
Dr. Kristina Douglass, Joyce and Doug Sherwin Early Career Professor in the Rock Ethics Institute and Assistant Professor of Anthropology and African Studies at Penn State University
Dr. Justin Hosbey, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Emory University
Jerrel Singer, Diné Artist
Dr. Peter Nelson, Coast Miwok and citizen of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria; Assistant Professor of ESPM and Ethnic Studies, UC Berkeley
Paulo Freire, Adriana P.A. Vieira, Daniel Vazquez Diaz, and Sieni Campos
>> ADAM SMITH: I think we’ll go ahead and get started. It looks like people are filing in from the waiting room.
>> ADAM SMITH: Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to today’s installment of the webinar series: “From the Margins to the Mainstream: Black and Indigenous futures in Archaeology”.
My name is Adam Smith, I am director of the Cornell Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies, one of the sponsors of this series in collaboration with the Society of Black Archaeologists, the Indigenous Archaeology Collective, the Wenner‑Gren Foundation, and SAPIENS.
Today’s discussion is made possible by the generous support of the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology at the University of Michigan.
Let me provide just a brief orientation to the webinar format. Only our Panelists will be visible and audible during the discussion‑‑your audio and video are not active. But we do hope that we will hear a lot from you through the Q and A function on your zoom toolbar. When you click that button, you can pose questions for our panelists and upvote queries from other attendees. On the toolbar you should also find the globe interpretation button. Today’s discussion is being simultaneously broadcast in French and Spanish.
Today’s conversation, the eighth in our nine‑part series, is entitled: “The Fire This time: Black and Indigenous Ecologies”. Our final installment in the series will be on April 7, when our focus will turn to “Black and Indigenous Futurities”. We hope you can join us for this capstone event to what has been an enlightening series of discussions.
Before we begin today’s conversation, I want to acknowledge that I am attending this discussion from the campus of Cornell University, which is located on the traditional homelands of the Cayuga Nation, members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The Confederacy, an alliance of six Sovereign Nations with a historic and contemporary presence on this land precedes the establishment of Cornell University, New York State, and the United States of America. I want to honor the ongoing connection of Cayuga people, past and present, to these lands and waters and encourage you to investigate the indigenous histories and living communities connected to the places that you occupy.
Our moderator for today’s discussion is Dr. Peter Nelson, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Policy and Management and Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. Dr. Nelson is Coast Miwok and a citizen of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.
Welcome Dr. Nelson.
>> ADAM SMITH: Dr. Nelson is going to lead the conversation today with our 4 distinguished Panelists:
Dr. Isabel Rivera‑Collazo is an Assistant Professor of Biological, Ecological and Human Adaptation to Climate Change in the Department of Anthropology and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. Welcome Dr. Rivera‑Collazo.
>> Hi. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for the invitation.
>> ADAM SMITH: Dr. Kristina Douglass is the Joyce and Doug Sherwin Early Career Professor in the Rock Ethics Institute and Assistant Professor of Anthropology and African Studies at Penn State University.
Welcome, Dr. Douglass. Are you there, Dr. Douglass? I just want to make sure that we can hear you.
>> Yes. Thank you for having me.
>> ADAM SMITH: Great. Welcome.
Dr. Justin Hosbey is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology at Emory University.
Welcome, Dr. Hosbey.
>> It’s great to be here. Thank you.
Jerrel Singer is a Diné Artist who lives and works in Northern
Arizona. Welcome, Jerrel.
>> Hello. It’s good to be here.
>> ADAM SMITH: With those brief instructions and introductions, let me hand the floor over to our moderator, Dr. Nelson.
>> DR. PETER NELSON: All right. I hope everyone can see those slides now. ‘oppu mikkon towis’.
I wanted to say hello in my language which is Coast Miwok, and, from my traditional homelands in the north San Francisco Bay area. Just a second.
I was going to check the chat real quick. All right. So what I want to do briefly today is introduce the session by speaking about the impacts of climate change and settler colonialism on my community as a way of leading into our to introduce the topics that will explore or at least some of them with our respective work in our communities and the topics of Black and Indigenous peoples’ relationships with the environment. As you can see in the map on the previous page, most of these examples from my work will come from the north San Francisco Bay area. So in the Bay Area we’re having a lot of discussions around fire right now. Fire is central to my culture for promoting the growth of healthy foods, long shoots for making baskets and other tools, reducing the fuels and pests in the environment and keeping the community safe. But today we have a lot of ‑‑ we have been ‑‑ we have not been able to have kind of relationship in fire and practice because of settler values for wilderness area that separate people from nature and settler policies that have suppressed cultural burning for over a century.
This has resulted in rampant problems with pests in our traditional foods like acorn, as you can see here with the grubs that get into these nuts, bug infestations in willow bark that make the sticks unsuitable for basketry, and massive fuels accumulating in our forests like this woodrat’s nest that has been pictured here that has been densely overgrown with poison oak. So all of that shrubbage in the foreground with poison oak. It makes this area completely impassable for humans and endangers our nearby towns with the threat of wildfire.
So this was my world this last fall.
These are views inside and around my home when the Glass and Shady fires were raging just a few city zones away. There are no filters on these photos of the red and orange hues of the daytime skies are pretty true in these photos.
These kinds of wildfires result from an imbalance in our relationships with the world around us. This day in the North San Francisco Bay Area felt like death. It was difficult to breathe, and these fires forced many people to evacuate their homes. In California an integral part of the ecosystem is fire, and it will burn whether we want it to or not.
We can store up this potential to burn and get massively destructive wildfires or we can give the land what it asks for in low intensity, prescribed or cultural burns year by year.
>> Your slides are not on, so we are not seeing your slide show. We would love to see your photos.
>> Okay. Let me see here. I don’t know what actually happened there. I’ll stop sharing for a second my PowerPoint completely disappeared. I don’t know what happened there.
>> Peter, your descriptions are so vivid, I think it’s all right to just describe.
>> DR. PETER NELSON: Okay. Yeah, if this doesn’t turn out, then we’ll just continue on. Can everyone see that there?
>> Yes, we can see that.
>> DR. PETER NELSON: Okay. So if I do that, do you still see it? Okay, cool. So that was the map of the Bay Area. Here are the baskets I was describing so vividly. And the pests and things at that get into our traditional foods and the fuels that accumulate in our forests.
So this was the picture of the fires as they got close to the town of Santa Rosa where I am living right now, so you can see the hues from the fire close by.
So I would just like to mention that these fires have exceeded far past the current records for wildfires in recent years, so over this past year, you know, over 8,200 fires consumed over 4 million acres of lands and it resulted in the loss of home, food and other resources for plants, animals and people as well. So I had a chance to participate in some controlled burning, prescribed burning and suppression work over the summer protecting the community. I’ve studied Indigenous fire and land stewardship since 2009, and with these fires encroaching on our community, what I saw was, you know, a need to put my research into action and put some of my knowledge of fire onto the ground. So there was an opportunity to get involved in some of the crews going out and doing some of this work, through organizations like Audubon Canyon Ranch and their fire forward program.
So this is a picture that shows the destructive nature of wildfires on a large scale that are not these prescribed or cultural burns. And the point that I really wanted to make with this introduction is that we’re really fortunate that many people are now listening to these arguments that we have for why we need prescribed and cultural burning. We hear on talk radio shows and newspaper articles now that Indigenous peoples, what Indigenous peoples have been telling everyone all along, that fire is integral to the health, safety and well‑being of our communities in the state. So this is a photo of some of this healthy prescribed burning as opposed to a lot of the wildland firefighting people have done over the years to protect against massive destructive wildfires. But as we’re thinking about this and integrating Indigenous knowledge into the policies and practices of the state, we must ask what are the goals of such efforts and who do the outcomes of these goals serve. So one scholar a group of scholar and professor at Humboldt State University has brought up this, the State must also reckon with colonialism and genocide against Indigenous Peoples and this must also means supporting the return of lands and sovereignty over lands as stewards and burn for our own purposes and our outcomes.
We should be putting fire back on the land in partnership and relationship with one another rather than an agency employing strategies on their own in our ancestral areas. In order to do this effectively, we need to understand our past in relation to the present and potential futures and we need to understand our place in relationship with the environment and with one another. These relation slips the foundation of resilient communities in a healthy world. This is how we will put fire back on the lands and sustainably steward these places to provide homes for all beings in the world.
So wanted to depart from this point into a discussion of different examples from all of our respective work and just ask, you know, how does colonialism and systemic racism impact Black and Indigenous communities in our relationships with the environment in similar and different ways? So what are these impacts on the environments and communities that we work within? We’ll just take a moment to talk through some of these examples and potentially even some of these strategies for addressing some of these impacts. So if we can maybe just start with Isabel and anyone can jump in at any time and start the discussion there.
>> DR. ISABEL RIVERA-COLLAZO: Thank you, Peter. I would like to begin by acknowledging that I normally work and live in the land of the Cayamay in San Diego, but I am joining you from my ancestral land in Boriken, from Puerto Rico, from the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and I’m currently calling from a beautiful beach in Farhardo. Regarding the question that you ask about colonialism and systemic racism, it’s such a large and complex question, it’s very hard to address it straightforward. Being Puerto Rican, being from Puerto Rico, we are a colony. We are a territory and have been such for at least almost 600 years. We haven’t been able to directly co‑directly rule the future of our own land and our own people. And I would like to begin by mentioning the role of history as well.
My mother, she’s 70‑something now, when she studied Puerto Rican history in school in the ’40s, she used a book that was written by the Secretary of Education of the United States about the history of part RICO, and the first sentence of that book said that Puerto Rico is a small island lost in the middle of the Caribbean sea, poor, without natural resources. How can you derive pride, how can you derive, you know, a will to live when the history book of my people starts saying that we are small, that we are in the middle of the ocean and that we are lost and that we don’t have natural resources? Similar discourse, if you remember after Maria how former President Trump mentioned that Puerto Rico is far away, big water, lost in the middle of there. So my island has been seen as a source of exploitation, from mono crop, from manufacturing, you know, we have U.S. citizenship so that my people could go and fight the wars for the United States.
One of the volunteers from my project said that you don’t have a colony to run a Salvation Army. So there is a whole process of exploitation and systemic racism that impacts not just the communities that I am part of, that I come from and that I work within, but also the entire discourse of who my people are, what our nation is, and how the process of say gentrification, the processes of getting rid of Puerto Ricans, that are laws now that are trying on bring foreign investments and treat also migration, outmigration of Puerto Ricans to the United States, similar things happened in the ’40s with the Operation Bootstrap in Puerto Rico.
So there are many elements that are entangled in that relationship between us and the environment. Another example is how we see wetlands. We all know in the fight of climate change how wetlands are important to preserve the coastlines. However, we have been told that west lands a bad place, that we have to fumigate and get rid of them and dry them up and that process of fumigation have impacted our fauna and our flora, our health as well.
Same with electricity production. So when we are in a context of colonizaiton, when we are in a context of systemic racism that is not just coming from the outside but also within ourselves, it’s hard to tease out that question that you ask regarding what is the impact that these elements have on our communities.
We have been, you know, we are dependent, we import 95 percent of our food. But in spite of all these challenges, in spite of all these challenge, in spite of all this very negative weight that we carry on our shoulder, there has been resistance. Not all resistance has been successful. But we have seen resistance from even before the United States occupied the territory, accident, before when we were still under Spanish rule, there has been a lot of resistance. I met a community leader that told me you cannot come after Maria, after Hurricane Maria, you cannot come and help us from outside if you don’t know how we have been fighting for what we have and what are the goals that we want to achieve.
And those thoughts, those feelings, extend all want way to the workers’ fight at unions for the rights, you know, there are so many elements that are intertwined. And the concept of Puerto Rico for example is one of those resistance, is acknowledging we have even been removed our own identity. The power to call ourselves Native to this island. Even that has been removed from us. So in that case, archaeology can also become a form of resistance. And I would like to say, I could continue talking for a long time, but I would like to see if somebody else would like to share.
>> DR. PETER NELSON: Absolutely. That’s very interesting and really well spoken to the issues of indigenity and how in your specific situation that operates.
Maybe if we can hear from Kristina next.
>> DR. KRISTINA DOUGLASS: Thank you, Peter, and thank you for opening this really important conversation. I just want to start by saying (Speaking in a language other than English) that’s thanks to give us all the opportunity to be here and to be speaking from the position of children as opposed to all‑knowing elders and ancestors.
I am an archaeologist based here at Penn State University and State College ancestral lands of the Susquehanna, but I call my home Madagascar. The question, Peter, you opened this discussion with is such a visceral one and it immediately brings up a wave of just strong, strong emotion and a desire to resist these narratives that on Madagascar are inscribed as literally in the earliest documentations, history book, natural histories pertaining to Madagascar. In the case of Madagascar, French naturalists in the 18 and 1900s described this island and its peoples as a paradise lost. In other words, this was an island that was pristine, full of resources, bounty, opportunity, potential, but that was being either lazily or inappropriately managed by Malagasy peoples and that narrative has been used effectively around the world in the colonial enterprise of disenfranchising and dispossessing peoples from their territories, their country.
So in my work as an archaeologist, I’m constantly hearing echos of that narrative, you know, in post‑colonial times that narrative is still alive and well in so many ways. In our remaining kind of ideas that in order to conservative Madagascar’s amazing biodiversity, I’m sure many people here have seen pictures of lemurs or have seen, you know, the sort of absurd cartoon Madagascar that really celebrates this amazing biodiversity but separates it out of necessity from Malagasy peoples, Malagasy peoples being viewed as a threat to this biodiversity. So when we think about conserving it, we think about removing people. When we think about how to develop sustainable practices, we think about changing and marginalizing traditional practices and traditional intergenerational knowledge.
And this comes up all the time, whether you’re looking at recent papers that cover the paleoclimate reconstruction of Madagascar that are then interpreted by a popular audience, popular press, as being evidence for this antagonistic relationship between people and environment.
So, you know, a signal for deforestation in the isotope records preserved in cave deposits in one small part of Madagascar might be interpreted by popular press or the broader public as being evidence for people’s extremely destructive force on Madagascar of the entire island.
And this is we’re talking about the fourth largest island in the world. We make all of these generalizations. I started working on Madagascar, I really started focusing earlier on the extinction debate. Madagascar like many places around the world has experienced change in its biodiversity and in the last thousand years has lost a suite of large animals, including giant elephant birds, largest birds to walk the earth, these included pygmy hippos, man‑size lemurs, all kind of amazing animals that went extinct sometime in the last 1,000 years so the narrative was always that that well that extinction followed in time human arrival and is thus sort of demonstration of the pristine myth in action. When people arrive, they set about destroying.
And so I’ve been very privileged to be able to work with communities in southwest Madagascar, I would say unlike Isabel, I can’t claim really a belonging to anywhere in the world. I was adopted, my siblings and I are all adopted from different places, we all have different parents, we moved around every three or four years, but I feel that in my collaborations in southwest Madagascar have been adopted into a community and that gives me a tremendous amount of responsibility to push back against a lot of these narratives and to push back across the board, not just in terms of how we interpret results, but also in term of how we frame questions to begin with. I’ll just give one last example of the importance of framing questions in a way that is inclusive and equitable. I only recently read a paper by an amazing colleague, Mansu, a theoretical ecologist and explaining all kind of approaches to look at not just the external drivers of environmental or ecological change, so whether that is climate change or changes in land use practices, but also the kind of internal ecological dynamics that shape ecosystems.
And just shifting the focus and the emphasis to some of these internal dynamics is allowing him to explore what are some of the ecological interactions between, for example, forests, grasslands, without looking at these external factors, and showing that change and some of the changes we’ve seen on Madagascar in the Holocene could very well be explained by other processes that don’t involve once again this destructive narrative of people against, you know, the landscape.
So I will stop there and pass on the floor.
>> DR. PETER NELSON: Yeah, definitely. Thank you, Kristina. A lot of those topics that you addressed really resonated with me in California, and maybe we can return to some of those as well. So why don’t we move on to Justin.
>> DR. JUSTIN HOSBEY: Is it okay if I share some slides as well? Okay. Okay. I wanted to read a selection from people coming from southern cultures co‑authored by myself, from Louisiana, here I want to acknowledge I’m here in Atlanta Georgia ancestral homes of Creek and Cherokee and my own ancestral peoples, a short reflection from that people. Water in Black cultural life is defined by dual, it is of course critical for the sustenance and biological vitality and serve as a source of spiritual power and space of renewal and baptism. Water’s qualities for disillusion make it bare critical material, land. The meaning of life and dissolve Black lives along low laying plane or in a washed out bottom, rivers in the ocean have often been the site of geographic and ecological violence beginning with slave trade and enduring contemporary regimes of extractionism that threaten lifeways intimately connected with stream, lakes, wetlands, rivers, lakes, ocean, toxic dumping with basic experience with water, drinking.
The project me and JT Roan have worked over the past few days of ecologies, shared are ecological effects of antisocial order emerge with slavery and social, spatial and ecological orderings at the same time, bubbles to the same ways knowing. Thinking about otherwise relationships and way the Black communities relate to themselves and planet in different ways.
So I can share the slide for one second.
So in my research based now in southern Louisiana I’m thinking critically about the ways that particularly Black communities and southern Louisiana facing in many ways at the forefront of climate catastrophe in the United States. Over the past 100 years Louisiana itself, here is a map of the deep water horizon oil spill in 2010 but Louisiana it’s has lost over 2,000 square miles of coastline over the past 100 years, every year 20 miles of coastline is lost to the Gulf of Mexico due to subsidence and due to offshore drilling. Many of the canals and channels that were dug to create transportation for the oil and gas exploration of the petrochemical industry have been contributed to the majority of wetland loss in the southern Louisiana geography, and according to FEMA, New Orleans is the most vulnerable American city to hurricanes.
Here is a picture of the deep water horizon oil spill in 2010. Part of what I think doing my work is while living if an environment and geography bounded in the Appalachia slavery where you have these anti‑black racial orderings that number one devalue Black life and also creates a very kind of significant state in Louisiana, when these catastrophes often happen in these landscapes, incarcerated folks end up doing the bulk of the labor of repairing and rebuilding and doing the hazardous work of rehab being the shoreline. This actually is a photo from bell Isle Louisiana after the BP Oil spill 2010 and incarcerated people men largely African American had coming the shoreline.
So I want to show a short brief video as well, but I’m trying to connect in my research now the history and the legacy of slavery and racial slavery with the current cultural state in thinking how about the regimes of slavery and degradation of the land, degradation of the local environment also goes along side the degradation of Black life at the same time, also thinking about the ways in which the carceral state picks up where the state falls and flounders when it comes to disaster recovery, the labor of the state.
>> DR. JUSTIN HOSBEY: Yes.
>> I’m very sorry to interrupt you. The interpreters are urgently reminding us to all speak very slowly so that they can keep up with the captioning and ‑‑
>> DR. JUSTIN HOSBEY: I’m sorry. I can’t see the chat, have the full screen up for the slide. I’m sorry. I couldn’t see the chat. My apologies. But in Louisiana, prior to 2019, Louisiana had the highest incarceration rate of any state in the United States, and within Louisiana, 70 percent of awful incarcerated people are Black. So there’s a historical legacy of that’s termed convict leasing where in Louisiana local parishes can actually rent out the labor of incarcerated people incarcerated within their local jails and prisons to private companies in Louisiana. This is how BP was actually able to contract out the labor of incarcerated people to actually solve the crisis this emerged when that oil spill actually happened. Okay? And I want to stop sharing for one second because I didn’t share the sound capacity. I want to show a brief clip, though, from the slide. And I’ll end on that. This actually is the Caddo parish named after the Caddo people of Louisiana but this is the Caddo talking about recent progressive move to end the carceral state and cells the carceral state because of the financial burden that are the carceral state takes on Louisiana and progressive reforms have suggested that who are incarcerated for low level crimes, should be released from prisons and jails and the Caddo parish sheriff here is saying it’s actually the wrong way to go. So here is a clip from him.
>> I don’t want state prisons, okay? They are unnecessary evil to keep the doors open that we keep a few or keep some out there and that’s the ones that you can work, that’s the ones that can pick up trash, the work release program. But guess what? Those are the ones that they’re releasing. In addition to the bad ones, and I call these bad, in addition to them, they’re releasing some good ones that we use every day to wash cars, to change oil in our cars, to cook in the kitchen, to do all that, where we save money. Well, they’re going to let them out.
>> DR. JUSTIN HOSBEY: Okay. I apologize, my internet connection kind of wasn’t wry for a second. I ‑‑ went awry for a second.
You can see the Caddo parish sheriff saying essentially we need the labor of these incarcerated people because they do important labor that we need for us in our communities. And if you’re going to let out people who actually are the good ones, the ones who are there for low level offenses, for nonviolent offenses, that’s not what we want, we want to actually have more of those people there. In my work thinking about the history and legacy of course of thinking about slavery in my colleague JT Roan in the Chesapeake and tidewater areas of Virginia and I think we’re thinking alongside the work of Fay Harrison work’s as well collecting routes and roots between U.S. south and Caribbean and thinking about how the legacy of slavery in Chesapeake region connected with legacy of slavery in delta region and degradation of Black life and Black lifeways alongside Indigenous lives as well all go back to slavery and kind of extractionist regimes of accumulation that come from that time period and the plantation economy.
So thinking about Isabel’s comment about the wetlands and how they were seen as something that need to be revised and brought to heal I think in Louisiana the French ask colonial and Spanish authority that you want the same way the wetlands are there and they need to be cleared away for development and what I’m trying to get at many my own work is within those wetlands and refuges you find Black light and Indigenous light that can withstand the climate crisis and I’ll end there.
>> DR. PETER NELSON: Thank you, Justin. Again, I think there are a lot of connections here, you know, thinking about my own work in California and all of the crews that are supported by inmate crews as well on the fire lines, 20 percent of the crews are composed of inmates. We had a major breakthrough with IBI2147 this past year that would expunge the nonviolent records of those inmates to be able to continue on in a profession in wildland firefighting, whereas they weren’t able to do that before. But I know that those accomplishments are hard won and few and far between.
So Jerrel, can you also speak to some of these issues with your work in art and your traditions and your home place in the southwest?
>> JERREL SINGER: Yes. So again, hello, everybody. My name is Jerrel Singer. I live here in Flagstaff. I was originally born in Tuba City. Most of the things that goes on here are mostly uranium mining. We’re downwinders here in Arizona, and downwinders are what happened in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s when all the nuclear testing was done out there ‑‑ had testing was down out there in Nevada. It blew downwind and to our water and food supply. Biggest food supply is our sheep and our cattle so every time we would consume our cattle and sheep we would also ingest all the nuclear waste that was coming in from the downwinders and we were also using our own water supply right there to irrigate our crops, our corn, our watermelon, our cantaloupe, and again, we’re ingesting that too.
We also have a bunch of uranium mines out where we’re at too. And they’ve been open since 1940s, all the way up to about maybe mid 80s. Again, there’s like over 500 mines that are open and they’re still open, they haven’t cleaned a majority of them. Again, rainwater comes in, wind comes in, and it comes in and blows all around our area.
We’re also fighting for our own land against Bears Ears and again when Trump was President, he cut our boundaries to Bears Ears and we’re always fighting for that, we’re always working with the EPA, Grand Canyon trust, Grand Canyon Navajo Nation, Coconino County, just to get our voices heard. We’re also doing performances called Rumble on the Mountain and that’s our annual thing which we started with Ed Caboti, he was always helping that, he was Al on the forefront of making sure that our ‑‑ he was always on the forefront of making sure our voices were heard, no matter who it was, whether we were artists or we were performing or we have, again, amazing scholars come in give a presentation about what’s going on.
We also have people come in from all over Four Corners area that would give their testimony about how all this has affected them from the beginning, from when they were children, how things have changed, how they would always go out to the land, cultivate it and everything, grow crops and do that. And now we can’t too a lot of the stuff that we always were told that is our land, our area.
>> DR. PETER NELSON: Thank you, Jerrel. So if anyone wanted to comment, too, about different strategies for addressing some of these impacts or how your work in art, archaeology or your policy work has brought about any changes in social change or more inclusive futures or more inclusive of Indigenous or Black people within your work and within the work of archaeology, just any comments you have there.
>> DR. ISABEL RIVERA-COLLAZO: I’ll start. Archaeology is a tool of colonialism. It is borne out of the expansion of empires, to know those people, away, those, the past civilizations. I remember when I started training in archaeology, one of my first field works was in Inamarina (Sounds like) and so many sites within our context had been razed so that they could go down the Roman times and start excavating from there. We have been archaeology has been obliterating the history of the Islamic history. Coming back to my island, one of the things that Kristina was saying regarding, I mean, how the stories that we tell about the places that we study, right, the way in which like they are showing talking about people talk about Madagascar as this pristine, this beautiful, you know, untouched land that humans are just destroying, right?
Same thing happens with other islands, specifically in the Caribbean. So if the market voice, the market construction of the Caribbean islands to empyreal context, like to the Americans or Europeans is again these pristine places, this beautiful remote paradise, when you are from here, it might not necessarily be a paradise. When you live inside here, there are so many issues, and to us they tell us for them it’s paradise, for us it’s like you have nothing, you have to go away. You know, those attitudes are embedded into how we ‑‑ and I say we as part of the community, right, as part of Puerto Rico ‑‑ that is what we have been told.
I didn’t know archaeology existed. It wasn’t until I came back from the Mediterranean where I said well is there anything about the past? As I start working in archaeology in Puerto Rico, so many people only knew about two sides, and they thought that our ancestors were already on those two side. And maybe if they know a little bit about historical context, maybe the force of someone, Indigenous resources, just the sites of theorists, but my island, it’s just packed with history of my ancestors, and that history doesn’t make it to my own people.
So in my context, being able to be from here, working to discover my own roots, my own past is a way not only for me to answer my own questions about who I am and where I come from, how come I know what I know, but also to begin those conversations with our partners in the communities, you know, in the neighborhoods that we start to work, where we are able to acknowledge that the knowledge, the local and traditional knowledge that they have is real. They are powerful. Yes, I have a privilege because I was able to leave the island, get a Ph.D. and become a professor, but the knowledge that I have is not worth more than the knowledge that they have. I am learning from them. And in that process of knowledge exchange, we can build stronger better ties to question and to rescue those histories that have been taken way from us.
I tell my partners, my community partners that archaeology, that we should see archeological sites and historical sites as a book that we haven’t read had, and that history that was removed from us, that knowledge of, you know, like Peter you with the fire, what was the relationship of us with our landscape? We have been told that what we know is not worth it because a scientist has to come and tell you what fish you can get from there and what you can eat and what you cannot eat.
And that is, in Spanish (Speaking Spanish), that undermines the knowledge that is local. So one of the things that I have been trying and making it up along the way, there is no specific recipe, there is no way to address this, you know, in a more concrete manner, is to try and rescue that knowledge that is local and use the very specialized and specific skills that I have had the privilege to develop and bring them back to my own people and say here, we can start now reading our books that are encoded in the land.
>> DR. KRISTINA DOUGLASS: If I can just jump in and follow Isabel’s important comments to start by saying her statement about archaeology being a colonialist tool and mission really resonates with me. We had a recent conversation a number of colleagues about how to make accessible, especially for students, community members, the materials that have been excavated on Madagascar, you know. Every time an archaeologist opens up a site, every time they pick something up off the ground, take a sample away for analysis, they’re extracting something. They’re extracting history. They’re extracting heritage. They’re extracting stories and knowledge and they’re extracting.
But very rarely do we think of that in those very real concrete terms, which is why if you look even for myself as somebody who has the privilege to be paid to spend my time in archaeology so I can dedicate a lot of energy to looking for these things, it’s very difficult to figure out and find where all of these materials are because they’ve been extracted over the last, you know, century and they’ve been scattered to the four winds.
And I think we often recognize this when we’re talking about the remains of ancestors themselves as in the corporal remains of ancestors, but in Vezo and in many I think Indigenous epistemologies, I’m use the Vezo proverb (Speaking language other than English) that means the land that sustains us is the land of the ancestors, meaning it’s not just the corporal remains of ancestors that that’s important and give us meaning and give us life. It’s all of these materials, it’s the land itself that has inscribed in it many generations of life and experience.
So to me, just the fact that as a professional archaeologist it’s really difficult to track down where all of this extracted material has gone just sometimes makes me feel really hopeless. I think to, Peter, your question about what can we do and what do we do, collaborating with communities is something that we need to do in a much more radical way than I think we imagined. I think we imagine collaboration often time in term of outcomes of research or in terms of when we’re in the field making sure that there are communities gatherings and we share what we’re doing and we got permits and permissions but I think collaboration in a radical sense involves ceding power on what kinds of questions we’re going to ask, what kind of methodologies, where is all the investment coming from, being transparent with that, what’s going to happen with these findings, who is going to have control over these narratives.
So I don’t think that we and our team have fully accomplished what our vision of radical collaboration, but we want to push in that direction and for us it’s really based on sharing power, and that can be a very uncomfortable thing to con front because where there is power, you know, anybody, myself included, has a hard time ceding it. But that’s where I think the real sort of transformation lies.
>> DR. PETER NELSON: Thank you, Kristina. Just to follow up on that too, because anyone my own work, these are really important issues thinking about how to decolonize a practice and a discipline that is at its core part of the colonial project, you know, extracting resources, extracting physical ancestors from the land and really what I’ve heard from people in California and elsewhere is taking the traces of our people off the land it’s almost like a cartographic project in a way where it’s completely wiping that slate clean to a completely White page to redraw in a colonial image.
So how do we take this discipline that, you know, does that as a practice and decolonize that in some way or approach it in a way that is productive for our communities.
>> DR. ISABEL RIVERA-COLLAZO: I want to jump in one second and I want to hear from in a second Jerrel, that is so true, we’ve been told Peter, in order to be a good person (Speaking Spanish) we have to be like the Americans and the good people are the ones that are blond (Speaking Spanish).
So those types of conceptualizations of the good of transforming Puerto Rico to become like the United States, that has such an enormous influence over so many things, and these discourses, like right now the United States Corps of Engineers is excavating, is removing so many of my ancestors because they now want to channel and cannibalize all our rivers and we live next to rivers. So they are obliterating our history and they don’t receive feedback from us.
>> JERREL SINGER: Here in Arizona we’re told that from everyone else that we need to get a job, get an education to be heard. April lot of times every time we have get a job, get our degrees and everything, we can’t be heard, because we go back to the reservation, back to our homeland, and there’s still no jobs for us, no jobs for us to pursue. And all the jobs and everything that happens is out in big cities, the border towns, exactly where, you know, a lot of negative things happen to us because our skin color. But again, we look at the museums and everything around there and they’re filled with all our history, all our bones, all our tribes. They’ve been taken from us, and they haven’t been brought back to our people, and say we took this from you, we don’t know what to do with it, and most of it is just stored into a basement, just a box.
>> DR. PETER NELSON: Yeah. You know, heritage that is in many ways incarcerated in museums and kept and held away from communities enters this sort of static way away from where those things were meant to be, and that can have tremendous impacts on the community. I know with different tribes that I’ve worked with, it’s a huge stressor to have ancestors and other resources in museums without any control over those things. Yeah, it’s a huge, huge issue.
I was wondering if we could talk a little bit about the collaborations not only with community, but also with partner agencies or governments or others that, you know, could be accomplices or allies or partners in research or in this community work, and if any of you have had productive collaborations in that sense in connecting those agencies with communities in your work and how that played out in productive strategies to do this work.
>> DR. ISABEL RIVERA-COLLAZO: I can start. In my experience, I have two types of more significant collaborations. Here in Puerto Rico, I have partnered a lot with the non‑governmental organization (Speaking Spanish) for nature which is part of the Puerto Rico conservation trust, they own land for conservation, for reforestation for preservation of the ecology and ecosystems but historical and archeological resources so I’ve started partnering with them and one of the things I’ve been emphasizing is how my work has to include the local communities, so through that, we have included the residents of the areas so that they can help us in the understanding of the archeological resources. So we are working to make our collections accessible through digital forms, through, you know, direct contact with the materials and also through the access of the knowledge that we are producing.
But my most successful partnership is directly with our neighbors, directly with our community members. That is what makes the most lasting projects. The most long lasting, the strongest, the knowledge remains for longer.
I have been extremely unsuccessful working with the government in Puerto Rico, with governmental offices in Puerto Rico. There is a lot of bureaucracy. There is a lot of maybe jealousy that just it just stands in the way. It reminds me of what Jerrel was saying regarding jobs. When I graduated from my Ph.D., we are very few Puerto Ricans with Ph.D. in archaeology, and when I graduated from my Ph.D., I came back here, I started working at the UPR, University of Puerto Rico, but it’s very insecure, the amount of work, there’s a lot of job insecurity, and we cannot produce at the same level. So the reason I’m working in California is because of that, you know, in order to do what I wanted to do, I had to be pushed away. And the University of Puerto Rico is part of the government.
So working with the government, the government in a broad, you know, federal or state in this case like national in Puerto Rico, it’s much more complicated and harder to do than partnering with nongovernmental organizations that are sensitive to the priorities of the communities, because those nongovernmental organizations can also be very exclusivist and remove the communities.
I have been working to change, you know, the culture of welcoming these local knowledges, but my most rewarding one is direct with the local community leaders as the directors being as the main contact, as the ones who like Kristina says, the ones that leave what questions is going to be asked ‑‑ that lead what questions is going to be asked.
>> DR. KRISTINA DOUGLASS: Maybe I can follow what Isabel was talking about in terms of our work in southwest Madagascar. I completely agree that our most successful collaborations are with community members in ‑‑ in Velondriake, because we’re literally working to resurface history, record history from elders in the community, record local knowledge about plants and animals and the landscape and in many ways I think then that my role just becomes that of a kind of translator and amplifier, you know, because the community has all of this knowledge, there’s nothing that I’m doing as an archaeologist that’s actually, you know, transformational. It’s really just helping to translate that and present that to different communities whether that’s diasporic communities and expatriate communities or whether that’s members of the scientific community and policy community, et cetera.
In terms of collaborating with government, what we’ve done many our project and we are just really, you have to be very honest at the beginning of this process, is to invite as much as possible representatives from the ministries that issue our permits to come the field with us and participate in the field project. Being in the field together always kind of builds a different relationship and dynamic, and that’s really important I think to come out of the is administrative context and to be able to relate to one another as people and to be able to build trust as people and understand each other better, you know, so that we understand better what maybe ministry concerns might be about a particular protected area or a particular, you know, heritage question, but we can hopefully build trust. One of the ways we do that actually is through art. I’m really glad and honored to Jerrel is here with us because we cannot, I think, because we cannot emphasize enough the importance of art in communicating and recording and preserving culture.
So we use dance and music in our field projects, including with representatives of ministries who come and join us and create choreographies and, you know, dance together before we go to the field, we dance in community gatherings to sell grate Madagascar independence day and all this goes to what we were talking about earlier in terms of power and breaking down power barriers and find common ground.
But in the future I hope that the foundation that we’re building right now will translate into us collaborating on the international stage. For example, coming together as co‑producing scientists with community members and travel to international conferences to talk about climate change and the impacts it’s having or to talk about, you know, sustainability issues with regard to the fishery and to again translate and amplify what is already known by community members.
>> DR. JUSTIN HOSBEY: I can go. I’m not an archaeologist, so I think that my method is a bit different in terms of like field science. I also do work in the United States as well, so I think my work is a bit more local, but the last research project that I did work on that had archaeology embedded within it was my previous project before the work in Louisiana actually in Nicodemus, Kansas, which is a small town, African American town that was built in 1866 and it was actually the only remaining town founded by former slaves west of the Mississippi River. So it’s a town that’s been there since the 1860s and they have a really big important emancipation day celebration every single year.
And what I realized when I did that research there, I realized that there had been several studies that had been done previously by White is anthropologists and White archaeologists and always with the community to satisfy the results and because at this point they were a national historic site they had to go through the National Park Service to actually get an ethnographist, archaeologist or anthropologist commissioned to do the research and at a certain point when I did the research they had said we want a Black archaeologist, we want a Black anthropologist, we want a Black ethnographer here to do this work and that was a demand they actually made. So I think one important way of practice moving forward, we’re anthropologists, archaeologists, this is a White dominated field. Most people here are White people for the most part and they’ve been trained in the kind of EuroAmerican tradition of thinking through of course methods, research analysis, et cetera, and I think that because of that, there’s an inherent bias that comes in where there’s a reluctance to submit to Black and Indigenous leadership.
Now, I don’t mean to just incorporate them into the process, I mean submit to their leadership if they tell you where do you want work to be done, where do you want research to be tethered to and which avenues and we’re going to do that and do that only. I think that in many ways, I think that part of the issue is just that there’s a reluctance to submit to that Black and Indigenous Native leadership and I think that’s a central issue I think in many ways oftentimes what happens is you have archaeologists and anthropologists who come in, do that kind of extractionist work and I think in many ways although it may not be a conscious intention I want to be extractionist in this particular way, we have to understand that as academics, as intellectuals within this industrial complex essentially, the American empire, period, we’ve been trained within that and we’re almost in a sense the intellectual arm of empire.
So I think that it doesn’t mean at that our work is ‑‑ any of us can’t do anything, but that means at that we must recognize that as we enter the work, as we do the work and as we leave the work and also as we analyze the work, it’s about reckoning with colonial anthropology and one important way is that many senior White archaeologists leave to go out of their way to recruit, retain and actually bring in archaeologists of color if they’re Native, if they’re Black, if they’re Puerto Rican, go out of your way to find talent and interest in these non‑White communities because I think oftentimes I think that for instance graduate school myself, when I would reach out to nonblack professors and mentors, oftentimes you won’t get the same response as you’ll get from a Black mentor and I don’t know if there’s a conscious bias, they can’t tell your race by e‑mail, but often team our social networks and intellectual networks are so insular that if you’re only around other White people, you only know other White graduate students and kind of bring those talented people into your program but you’re not going occupant of your way to actually find Black archaeologists, to find Native archaeologists.
And I think that should be a top priority for all White archaeologists and all white anthropologists is no matter where you do your research, you should not be bringing in White students to do the same work that you’re doing because that’s recapitulating the entire colonial process and I think that for anthropology to really be viable beyond the colonial construct that’s been kind of created within, it has to go out of its way to ensure that the dynamic of White people coming in from Europe and North America to study non‑White people and bring it back to those colonial hubs, to get University positions, that has to end.
I think that’s the key thing that’s keeping the colonial order of anthropology intact and I’m not saying it in terms of just being more diverse and having more diversity, I mean, no, commit to actually doing the work of actually recruiting, training, lift and go bringing in those scholars of color who want to be archaeologists. I live in Atlanta right now, there’s lot of young Black kids who are interested in history of archaeology and would love to actually learn about it more in depth but if there’s no archaeologists coming the city to teach them about what archaeology is and what it can do, they don’t see it as viable, if they go to college they won’t major in anthropology so I think as a Black scholar myself and as a faculty member now I go out of my way to make sure I support and recruit students of color and I think that the onus is on every White archaeologist and every White anthropologist go out of your way, not just when you feel like it’s convenient, when you want to, go out of your way to include and uplift the support and to give financial support to as well as moral support to and also correctional support to non‑White students.
I think that’s the greatest barrier that I see right now and I’m not sure if it’s always intentional in the sense that they only work with White students but because as I said these insular social networks that we’re in, the pipeline is only bringing in a certain kind of student and for anthropology to be viable for the next 100 years, it can’t be an all White discipline like this anymore, that’s going to actually render it I think in many ways irrelevant to what’s happening in our world now, as we see now.
>> DR. PETER NELSON: Absolutely. Thank you for those comments, Justin. So a lot of us have been talking about our positionality in research and I was wondering if there might be more examples that people can talk about where, you know, like Kristina, you mentioned the questions that you ask in your research change and that certainly has changed for me in my research and guided me to different questions that the community wanted to ask. How does that position in research and relationship with community in all our respective works, you know, change the research, change the art for the better or make that research or science or art more robust in different ways, and that could be in terms of how Western science sees it and from our own knowledge, I think there’s a conversation to be had in term of what is knowledge and what are we trying to produce and some of these things that may not necessarily qualify as research being very valuable as well as products of our research. So does anyone have thoughts on that?
>> DR. KRISTINA DOUGLASS: I’m still kind of absorbing what Justin was talking about, and he made some very, very powerful comments that I hope will really sink in, and a lot of what we’re saying on this panel, I think, may land in the interwebs, but really needs to be absorbed in a way that sometimes it seems like we don’t have the capacity to do it. Riff and if I can just talk about for a minute this idea of diversity in science, which Justin commented on as well, I think there’s still a very fundamental misunderstanding of what that means. You know, what does it mean to have diverse ways of thinking? Even that is not fully understood. Diverse epistemologies means completely different ways of seeing the world. And when we work with communities like in southwest Madagascar, their epistemology, the way that they see the world might be very, very, very different. But it’s like it takes a long time to sink in that fact and to really understand what that means, you know. So we’re, for example, collecting information about classification. How do Vezo communities classify and name and view different fishes, different mollusks, different trees.
And it’s just amazing to see how different it is. So we have Western Lenaean quote unquote scientific ways of seeing the world and in Vezo epistemology there are members of different Linaean families that are actually sister and brother species in Vezo epistemology because of the role that those species play in Vezo lives, and if you really want to think differently and think in a diverse way, I think a lot of people in science now it’s very fashionable to say that diverse science makes for more robust science, et cetera, et cetera, but a lot of times people are not understanding what that means in terms of completely shifting your epistemology. I mean, what I’m trying to a is that it’s more radical than most people have absorbed, you know.
So I think like a lot of the comments that you all are making on this panel are more radical than what people are able to absorb in a sense. And I hope that conversations like this allow us to little by little get kind of soaked in that so that eventually we understand the implications. But diversity in science, diversity that we can aspire to, through equitable collaborations, really inclusive collaborations, means completely changing, allowing us to change the way that we are seeing the world from basics of classifying species to theories about how different organisms and people and et cetera interact with each other.
I gave that example earlier of just shifting the focus, even just a little bit in terms of thinking about intrinsic or internal dynamics versus external dynamics. The same could be said for coming at a particular ecological question are with the mindset that the interactions that you see between different plants and animals is primarily going to be a competitive interaction. That’s an epistemological view.
If you change it epistemology, you might come in with the starting assumption that ecological interactions are more cooperative, you know, are more mutualistic, so I think we have a long ways to go to be able to achieve that kind of diverse way of thinking.
But working with communities and again ceding that power, as uncomfortable as it is is where it starts in terms of then allowing these ideas to sink in.
>> DR. ISABEL RIVERA-COLLAZO: I wanted to follow up on that and Kristina has pointed out a very important issue of power and how uncomfortable it is to let go of it. We are academics, we have been trained in academia that we are the owners of the real good knowledge, right? So when we go and interact with people, in uncomfortable situations we go to our instinct and instinct is the base of whatever we were taught. So if there is something, it’s so hard to say I don’t know. It’s so hard to say you know more than me. It’s so hard to acknowledge that we have been trained in a hierarchical system and that in order to challenge the hierarchical system, that approximate reinforces racism, that reinforces exclusion, that reinforces exclusivity or prioritization of particular ways of practices of science or knowledge, in order to challenge those hierarchies that have been ingrained in our academic minds, in this panel we’re Assistant Professors, we are within that system, in order to do that, we need to get down from our staircase, we need to get down from our pedestal, we need to come down and acknowledge. I know a lot of a very narrow thing, but you guys know a lot of very wide, I need to learn from you, and in order to learn from you, I’m willing to give you everything I know. That is relinquishing power, and that is not easy. It sounds easy for me saying it because I have been thinking about it for so many years, but it’s super‑hard to say what you’re asking, we are questioning ourselves. We are questioning like what Jerrel was saying, we are questioning how is this is done? We need art. We need art to communicate. We need, you know, music to communicate. We need to get down and acknowledge the power that comes from getting down from our pedestal. But I promise it’s not that simple.
But I think that we all have to get to that uncomfortable place so that we can actually talk about diversity. Because when as a professor we just did the graduate admissions, how easy it is to grab the best folder and the best folder of graduate students applying to a program is surely not a Black person from this impoverished background. It takes an extra mile to actually promote and create the diversity that we want to receive in the future.
It takes, we need to make that conscious effort, what does ethics mean? Can I really go to that community and just start excavating because the law allows me to? No. The law does not require me to invite the grandmother from the Tahino tribe and bless the site before we start excavating, but I have to do it, even it doesn’t matter what, I have to have them come and bless and be part of the ceremony because it’s important. It’s uncomfortable for scientists, but that’s ‑‑ we have to do it, we have to relinquish power. And I mean it, and by we, I mean the academia.
>> DR. PETER NELSON: All right. I want to transition into some of the questions and answers from the audience because one that I see here relates to this conversation that we’re having around spaces for radical collaboration and diversity in academics.
So the question is: Do any of the panelists have words of advice for graduate students doing research pertaining to how we can advocate for radical collaboration in spaces where we haven’t seen it before?
>> DR. ISABEL RIVERA-COLLAZO: Two things. I tell my students that they have to learn the language whereof they go to. They have to learn the language. You cannot go to a place and assume that everyone will speak English. So for my students to come here, they know that I get here and I start speaking not just Spanish, Puerto Rican Spanish, and that is a very particular type of Spanish that, we speak fast, we swear a lot. We Louis a lot of slang and Indigenous words and they have to learn that one. I am not going on ask my community members to speak English for my students. That’s the first point. Learn the culture, learn the histories, for the grad students, wherever you go, there is a history, especially until colonial context, there is a history of resistance. There is a history of history, of, you know, I went to a museum the other day where my grandfather was from, and this guy, it’s a private museum, somebody just collected the history of the neighborhoods, and he was saying it’s important that they know the history of my grandparents. That’s what we need to acknowledge.
If you want to work with the Maya, many archaeologists want to work with the Maya. Why the Maya? Why do you want to go and study the other? Why don’t you study yourself? You know how many problems there are in the United States that we don’t understand because everyone studies those people out there?
You know, we need to start by acknowledging the history, the backgrounds, the fights and the needs of the local community.
And the other advice that I give is start by giving presence. And giving presence could be as simple as I know this you need to ‑‑ I have this knowledge, you are need to do that, how can I help you? Not how you the community leader how can you help me.
I need to start by helping people, by giving myself so that knowledge can then and trust can move forward. And build long‑term relationship with communities. It takes time but it’s important ask very transformative. And speak the language, please, don’t force people to speak English.
>> DR. KRISTINA DOUGLASS: Such an important point you raised about speaking the language. This I think, yeah, on so many levels is so important. And the more technologically sophisticated the science gets, I think the more the temptation is to not make that investment in learning the language, humanizing learning the context, learning the history, learning where it is you’re working, who you’re working with, you know, and taking the time to learn a language is a big investment. I recognize that. But it’s such an important point. There’s so much that you will never understand unless you learn the language because knowledge is encoded in language. This goes to, you know, Justin’s point too about having Black and Indigenous scholars, you know. There is knowledge that’s encoded in languages, in culture that gets brought to the table then and cannot be brought to the table unless you’re including and bringing people in.
And the advice that I would give, and actually I had an opportunity last night to talk with a wonderful group of students and colleagues, is to be a child. I view myself always as a child. I’m African and in African cultures unless you ‑‑ there’s like a point at which maybe you become an elder, but I’m certainly not an elder. So the alternative is I’m a child. So when you approach communities and you want to establish collaboration and partnerships, if you have the humility of a child, it means that you’re willing to acknowledge that you don’t know everything, that you have a curiosity, a real openness to wanting to learn, so you approach elders and knowledge holders in the communities and ask them to share and also means you won’t be embarrassed and have the kind of hangups about learning the language, learning the culture and you’ll also allow members of the community to correct you. You know, to tell you when you’ve made a mistake. And I think that’s what I mean by coming in with the humility of a child and the ability to learn.
>> DR. ISABEL RIVERA-COLLAZO: And consult with local knowledge holders, and that includes publications written in the language, that local publications, things written in other languages, it’s important to acknowledge that you’re standing on the shoulders of giants. It doesn’t matter what giants. So it’s important that we have to acknowledge what has been done before, who has done what, and it extends way beyond American academia.
>> JERREL SINGER: It’s beautiful to hear you guys say that. We always tell each other, learn the language of the people, learn how you can interact with them, how you can help them, and how you can establish those relationships to say I want to learn how to do this, I want to learn that. Can you teach me? So thank you guys for saying all that. Thank you.
>> DR. KRISTINA DOUGLASS: It always amazes me from the perspective EuroAmerican scientific thought, it always amazes me that people don’t readily understand or realize that when you’re talking to communities who have intergenerational knowledge and language and culture, you’re talking to folks who have empirical observations of a particular environment or context several orders of magnitude larger than anybody who has written a scientific publication about this. You know, I think about my friend Patricia who every day of her life interacts with the intertidal zone, she’s harvesting shellfish and she’s observing that environment every single day, hours and hours, and not just that, she is accessing intergenerational knowledge from multiple generations about that environment.
So it’s like orders of magnitude more, you know, empirical observation than anybody who would come in and even as an anthropologist maybe do like a one‑year or two years of field work.
So that always blows my mind because language, culture and people who are knowledge holders just know so much, it’s amazing.
>> DR. PETER NELSON: Yeah, absolutely. In my experience, you know, work with my tribe and just on my own as an individual too with knowledge from my elders, there’s so much there, that it’s like citing literature in Western academics, you know, because the knowledge of our elders is like our literature, you know. And our archives as well. And the loss of elders too is a huge loss for our community in that sense as well.
And the production of knowledge looks a little bit different as well. For different purposes, you know, there are different methods, but science just like you were saying, Kristina, is rooted in observation. All of what we do is observation. And it may be done through instrumentation or the instrumentation of the body or dreams or other sorts of things, but those are all forms of knowledge production. So in that sense, you know, we do have these methods, these different methods and perspectives and epistemologies that we’re working from which create different knowledge. And I guess the work that we’re all trying to do is have that knowledge of communities be recognized in a more inclusive way in the work that’s done. I know I work a lot with National Park Service and they want to use the best available science to inform their management policies. So, you know, that’s very agency language where, you know, it’s just like is this feasible. Those are keywords for the agency can somewhat consider what you have to say, but they have a little leeway to do what they want.
So in those kinds of consultations, you know, are they making a good faith effort to really take in the comments of communities and the depth of knowledge that’s there as that best available science as opposed to Western, you know, science that’s available in publications. And to trust that, you know, we may not always necessarily give everything away or give it out because especially because of this really destructive history of extracting knowledge and putting it out there in the public domain and we can’t take that back now.
So there are all of these different reasons why, you know, knowledge is positioned in different ways in consultation and it’s good to, you know, really bring that out for agencies. I think that when someone hears an answer like I don’t know or silence, they take it to mean that that knowledge isn’t there anymore, and that’s not necessarily true. It could be how the community protects that knowledge and refuses to put it out there because if it does get out, then it’s gone from the community or out from the community ‑‑ out from the community forever.
>> DR. ISABEL RIVERA-COLLAZO: That point is extreme important, Peter, because colonization and expansion and imperialism has damaged, has done so much damage and of course so many people simply do not trust scientists. So we need to make sure that we respect those voices. I don’t publish things if my communities don’t allow me to. We are not the owners of the past. We are not the owners of the things that we do. It sounds beautiful to consult and talk with the communities and, you know, go in there and start, but if they don’t want you, you cannot go. If they don’t want you to share their knowledge, you cannot share it with anyone outside of them. It’s their knowledge. It’s their things. And they have to have ‑‑ it’s important, talking in the context of graduate students it’s talking about the ethics of this so we don’t end up exploiting it. I see this in agencies, you have to include traditional knowledge and have to include tech and things but it can be exploitative, so we have to be very mindful of respecting and building relationships of trust.
>> DR. KRISTINA DOUGLASS: Can I pose a question, Peter? I know there were a lot of questions in the chat. But something that Isabel just said made me want to raise an issue with regard to protecting communities and protecting knowledge that we’re thinking about a lot amongst my collaborators and my students, which is using certain kinds of instruments. I like the way you framed that, Peter, in terms of different instruments of observation, but using instruments like remote sensing technology, using that kind of instrumentation that is rooted in surveillance and rooted in that kind of power dynamic, without thinking of the impacts that that has on communities. And I just want to kind of throw it out as an open topic, but I would love to hear your perspectives on protecting knowledge and protecting communities because, you know, a lot of the conversation so far has been about well there’s all this amazing knowledge, like Isabel said, all this amazing knowledge and we can bring it forward and amplify it and et cetera but there’s a very important, I think, flip side to that topic, that point. Had.
>> DR. ISABEL RIVERA-COLLAZO: There have been many discussions regarding the ethics of using, say, LIDR, things like that, I completely agree, it’s not that I have a direct answer to the question, Kristina, but it goes back to the point before, who owns the data, who owns the information, and, you know, how much, like with LIDR, with these methods, I can see many things. It doesn’t mean that I can share them widely because there are tons of people that do not respect my culture in the same way and can come and exploit that knowledge. That is what has happened with the Maya and mesoamerica, that it is technological colonization exploiting this knowledge and exploiting this information without giving it back. So I don’t have an answer, but I acknowledge the importance of your question.
>> DR. PETER NELSON: Yeah, thank you for that question, Kristina. It’s something that I’ve thought about a lot with the communities that I work with, doing research that does less damage in terms of physical impacts to sites as well as, you know, less damage in terms of, you know, knowledge that could be released that shouldn’t be and harm the community in some way, you know, having accountability to the community and making sure that the research is also, you know, I’m following up and it’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing as well, which is part of my fire work, it has less to do with archaeology but I wanted to put that in practice and really make good on this not just a historical project but something that does good in the community rather than just is some project about past knowledge. And to speak about confidentiality and those issues, I really treated sites in my own work basically like human subjects h you know, because they’re incredibly sensitive places, spiritual places, so they can be impacted by looters, all kinds of damages if information about those sites get out.
So I’ve actually used pseudonyms for my different sites and not included the locations of those in my publications, and that’s just a move that I’ve made with my community because it was something that was called for, this greater confidentiality and responsibility to those sites.
And also with that, you know, having those pseudonyms and the information protected as though you were working with human subjects, if you wanted to access that data as well and work with the raw data, you would need to go back through the community IRB process and get approved to work with my community and with that data in order to include that in further research rather than it just going out and having full data sheets and you could, you know, reevaluate and tell, you know, a news story about that same data, you know, there’s a little bit more responsibility in working with the community to tell stories that don’t harm the community.
>> DR. JUSTIN HOSBEY: One critical thing, in archaeology we think about these things, not as much as we should, most likely. I think that it’s important that we understand, because I think about often with our own research method of participant observation in our own data collection methods, I think about even the terms that we use, evidence, data, observation, it’s like as I think more about ethnography itself, it’s like policing. You’re collecting data. You’re interrogating. You’re investigating. And I think that many many ways we see the inherent nature of policing that goes within the kind of like sustained systematic observation and how that can be deployed and used by different people this different kinds of ways.
And Kristina Sharpe has a really critical assay called Black life annotated and I forget what the literary review had said but you can Google it, Kristina Sharpe, Black life annotated, critique on Allison’s work in Philadelphia and really a critique especially if you’re doing work in communities that are facing racism from the state in their community structural racism, oftentimes by peeling back the layers into the ways that they survive, you’re actually exposing their lives to further angering from the states that can in some ways eliminate the ways of surviving and getting through and getting over so I think it’s important in our quest for like understanding and kind of spreading information and spreading this knowledge it’s important to understand that some things shouldn’t be shared, some things as critical as had he may be, as enlightening as they may be, this one thing may be the key to everything, but if you’re going to put people in harm’s way or if it’s going on eliminate a resource that folks have outside of the state to survive by exposing it, then you shouldn’t do it.
So I think that like Kristina is talking about like thinking through our own epistemologies and the kind of Western academic epistemology of knowledge for knowledge sake is just inherently good, right, where no, it’s important information, this should be archived, this should be there, and I think that’s kind of what drives archaeology and anthropology, the idea that yes inherently knowing more is a good thing for all of us, and I think that in many ways I think that participate of what I think working with Black folks and Native folks and, you know, LatinX people as well is about no, it’s not a good thing oftentimes because I think that that idea, that epistemology directly with power in the way that power is exerted through the knowledge we’re actually producing so I think it’s important that we’re cognizant of that and we can’t go into these situations so idealistically.
Yes, you want to be optimistic but don’t be so idealistic in the sense that you’re actually exposing the ways that people are actually surviving and I think we’ve seen over the past few years and I think we’ll see into the future as the climate crisis actually hits these communities, the State is not going to be there, I think in my own situation in New Orleans Hurricane Katrina was a moment that gave us the foreground that let us know Hurricane Maria, what would happen in Texas right now, what’s happening in Jackson, Mississippi, right now, having no water for three weeks so I think that in many ways the State is not going on step in for these communities and we know that. I think that we believe that somehow if we elect the right person. No, had the State is not going to do that regardless of who is in office. And I think part of our work is not to then deconstruct and dissolve and expose the ways that folks are surviving in the interim. I think our work should be designed to helping those people and helping those ways of survival because I think that, you know, our world is going to change in the next few years rapidly, academia is going to change, our research methods are going to change even now with doing ethnography, how do you do ethnography in the time of COVID, you can’t really do the same kind of research you would do preCOVID and maybe that’s a good thing and maybe it’s an opportunity for more research to actually reckon with power in a way that thinks through even our own research method and how we’re implicated within those systems so I think in many ways if we can look at the history, look at Hurricane Maria, Katrina, we can kind of see, okay, when these things happen, the State is not going to be there, so our work should not be advocacy toward the State because I think it we keep doing that in the sake of we just tell the State what’s happening, they’ll come in and they’ll stop it, that’s not what happens.
We see that, Peter, your work in California, I think in many ways we can’t rely on the State to be the force that comes and fixes this particularly for marginalized and racialized communities. So I think that it’s on us if we work from kind of a place of justice and ethic of care at the same time to deal with that and keep that as part of our research process and I think that of course I think of Madagascar Kristina as well in that community climate change is going to be a serious issue there. So I think that appears that stress of what’s going on happen to us all compounds, don’t fall back into as you say, Isabel, our instincts and training. No, let’s keep our still ethic of justice and thinking critical and thinking critically about what we’re doing even as we see the precarity that’s going on happen in the next few years and far beyond.
>> DR. KRISTINA DOUGLASS: Justin, that’s so beautiful because you just wove a thread through a bunch of different thoughts that I had that were kind of disparate thoughts and you made me see some things more clearly too about parts of the landscape that are considered to be sacred and secret, right? There are places that you’re not supposed to go because it’s protected knowledge, and it’s protected not for some, you know, quaint reason. It’s protected for a really good reason.
I was just thinking and kind of laughing because years ago when we were doing survey on the southwest coast of Madagascar, we came across a set of broken hearth stones called Tohu (Sounds like) and there were three of them and they were broken and I asked why they were broken and somebody explained to me that that’s because when that community moved they broke them because they didn’t want whoever came next to be able to appropriate knowledge and power from their settlement, so you break them and scatter them so that people can’t do that.
The reason that made me laugh because I was like oh, we should go ahead and document all of these Tuku and go ahead and find all these Tuku but that’s so absurd because they literally just explained to me that it is an intentional disruption to protect something, to protect a migration history, to protect a settlement, you know, history.
So yeah, I just wanted to thank you because you really brought a few things together for me there and made it more clear.
>> DR. ISABEL RIVERA-COLLAZO: I also want to say thanks to Justin because what you are saying, it’s so extremely important and so real, and I want to bring two points. First, that in ethnography, in the type of work that we do, another care that we have to take is to remember that sometimes the questions we ask trigger trauma. In colonized groups or in political contexts of abuse and harassment and discrimination, there is so much trauma, that we could inadvertently trigger by asking, add extra pressure. So it’s important to add to the list of super‑cool things that Justin just said, that element of trauma. And I forgot what was the second point. I’ll say it later if I remember.
>> DR. KRISTINA DOUGLASS: It reminds me too of that concept just really quickly because I’ve been trying to go back to some, you know, kind of philosophy of thought in African studies too and the idea that research, you know, to your point, Justin, about not everything is something we should pursue, not all knowledge is something that we should pursue, is the idea that research should be, you know, descriptive, corrective and prescriptive. In other words, to Isabel’s point, there are questions we can ask, and there are scientific tools and techniques we can use to, you know, work our magic, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not going on inflict harm and that it’s something that we should do. And it makes me think too of work like professor Alicia Odiwalas work in restorative justice archaeology with a clear intention, that is what’s driving the work, it’s not some kind of esoteric quest for any kind of knowledge. It’s very intentional.
>> DR. PETER NELSON: Isabel? Another comment?
>> DR. ISABEL RIVERA-COLLAZO: I remembered one thing, what I wanted to say was about not trusting that the government is going on save us. I happen to live in the transition, I happen to be lucky enough, lucky or not, I was in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Hugo, I lived this generation of transition of knowledge regarding the response to hurricanes and when Hurricane Hugo impacted the island in the ’80s, what my mother and my grandmother told me was how to prepare the house and everything and that when the hurricane pass, you have to check on your neighbors, and we supported each other, et cetera, but then FEMA came and helped. And when Maria and George, then with Hurricane George, then FEMA intervened and there was help. When Maria came, everybody was waiting for FEMA, everyone was waiting for the government. There was a gap between that traditional knowledge of how to respond to the hurricanes and then now waiting for the government to come. And I think that is an important element that affected the result of the impact. So yes, that’s the point I wanted to make.
>> DR. PETER NELSON: All right. I wanted to ask another question from the Q & A. This could relate to more than just Justin’s work, but it was specifically asked to Justin about essentially ecological disasters and impacts on can BIPOT communities. For Justin, your work, ecological politics, upsurge of disaster extractivism and capitalism. We know that Black and brown working class folks who have high incarceration rates will continue to be on the front lines and be exploited for labor and to continue to be disenfranchized and harmed because of ecological disaster.
I don’t know if you addressed this ‑‑ but what is the community work on the ground looking like in Louisiana around the connection between abolition and ecology?
>> DR. JUSTIN HOSBEY: Yeah, there’s such brilliant work going on, much of it being Black feminist led organizing in the city of New Orleans. Two organizations I know of for sure it’s called Women with a Vision and also the Gallery of the Streets and these both are kind of Black women led collectives but through visual art, through protests and also through mobilization and kind of just networking and organizing in the city, they connect the history of basically did he go allegation of southern Louisiana and the history of that degradation of New Orleans in particular and Hurricane Katrina being a crescendo moment and thinking about the rise of the carceral state afterwards and thinking about the ways in which you have a storm like Hurricane Katrina come and destroy so much of the city in the aftermath of that disaster capitalism comes and says okay, privatize the entire school system and turn them into charter schools which happened in New Orleans as well, let’s think about how we build more prisons and jails and increase capacity of prisons and jails in the city so I think in many ways these states are actually banking on the catastrophe that happens and figure out way to profit from and trying to figure out in New Orleans how can we secure a future for Black life in New Orleans and southern Louisiana 100 years from now because we are look at what’s happening in term of the coastline and increased nature and increasing number of environmental catastrophes that are going to happen in New Orleans coastline in 100 years there may not be a future for Black life in this area so the question for lots of organizers on the ground is really how can we secure a future for Black life in this area.
In many ways these catastrophes and these environmental catastrophes are pushing Black life further away from the city and further away from the area in the same way that previous in the past you have settle are colonialism push ago way the Native people that live in these areas and in my work I really reflect a lot on the wetlands because I think the wetlands a space where the Black and Native people in southern Louisiana were able to kind of hide away from the plantation regime, so essential what we’re seeing now, this is the same plantation regime, this is the same extractionist racial life plantation regime that led to the genocide of Native people and also the enslavement of African descended people as well and part of this is of course Women with a Vision, Gallery of the Streets, also taking down a confederate monument in the city as well and that’s kind of how they organize but also it’s a matter of not just taking monuments but also looking at what kind of violence are these monuments actually commemorating, to the environment and to the life of people who live in this area and then why is taking them down so important? Why is renaming these sites and taking down these statues, why are they important to the future Black or brown people in this area so these are three key organizations that I know of on the ground in New Orleans.
>> DR. PETER NELSON: All right. Well, we’re coming up on time. I just wanted to make space for my last comments that any of the panelists have.
>> DR. KRISTINA DOUGLASS: I wanted to share something that I’ve learned about recently, it’s not something that is part of my work yet at all, but I have colleagues here at Penn State who are innovating different technologies using virtual reality, and in a way you can create a world that people can experience based on what you input into that world. So you could take oral histories and archeological information from southwest Madagascar and use that to create this virtual, you know, dry forest of the Southwest at a particular point in time, in the past or in the future, as a tool, you know, I’m kind of riffing on what some of the possibilities are, to help people imagine and really see those futures, you know, in the way that some of the organizations that Justin referred to, you know, are trying to do. Imagine the future, warn people in some cases, remember traditions, remember strategies, like Isabel was talking about with response to disasters, and I think it’s a really interesting possibility for, again, collaborating with communities, using technology in a way that allows us to see the world in a different way, whether that’s the world in the future, the world in the past or the world really through different eyes and I think that’s what a lot of us need is literally to be able to see the world through other people’s eyes, to be able to understand new things.
>> DR. ISABEL RIVERA-COLLAZO: Kristina, that is super‑cool and I agree that is a very important tool. In my context, I find that sometimes we ‑‑ I find the challenge that not everyone has access or knowledge about technology, so sometimes when we create these, you know, re‑creations, which are amazing and could be so great and I have also colleagues that are working on that, but it can also limit access when people don’t have access to technology or knowledge about technology or access to internet, those are things that I’m facing now in my community, so I want to do interviews. Just doing interviews, not interviews me, them facilitating my communities to interview themselves, they don’t have access to internet, they don’t know how to use computers, so sometimes we think, oh, maybe we can present these things in technology, but we have to remember that not everyone has access to it.
And the other point is who is going to actually have access when we create them because if it is completely open, then we are again giving away all this richness of things.
I like a lot the website of Carrying Our Ancestors Home, where the databases and information is stored in a software, in a context that is controlled by the community. Not everyone has access to it. But they have the possibility ‑‑ and it’s not controlled by private companies or capitalist companies. It’s controlled by them. So yes, I agree with you, it’s important that we remember who has access to this information and who can reach it and use it, and I believe that it’s important that we Al remember that ‑‑ we always remember that it’s the community that has to be the one creating the context and managing the context and controlling the distribution of it.
>> DR. KRISTINA DOUGLASS: Your comment Isabel made me think also about the flip side, which is what happens when certain instrumentation and technologies are made accessible even if it’s just momentarily to community members who have never seen it before. In our case, in one time, we used VR goggles in the lab to broadcast the live feed from a drone that was doing survey above the sites so that historians in the Micaea territories could see what it is that we’re seeing and doing with this technology, and I think it was a really ‑‑ it was a big revolution to me first of all how disorienting and kind of just challenging it was for them to be seeing this imagery and then to be able to kind of think about what people have been using to measure and observe and surveil, so I think yeah, your comment is really important, and there’s another kind of dimension to it too in terms of making certain things about transparent about the work that we are doing.
>> DR. PETER NELSON: Thank you. We are at time, so I think we’ll end there, and we’ll have Mike from the University of Michigan give a quick wrap up.
>> MIKE GALATY: Thank you, Peter.Just give me one second, everyone, and I’m going to share my screen. Too many windows open. Okay. Hi.
I am Mike Galaty, Director of the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology at the
University of Michigan.I’ve been asked to close this webinar. Before doing that, I want to recognize that the University of Michigan is located on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Wyandot, Seneca, Delaware, Shawnee, Miami, Sauk and Fox, and others. In 1817 the Bodewadami, Odawa, and Ojibwe Nations made the largest single gift to the early University, when they granted land through Article 16 of the Treaty at the Foot of the Rapids so that their children could be educated. Through these words of acknowledgment, their contemporary and ancestral ties to the land, sovereignty, and their contributions to the University are recognized and reaffirmed. As a Museum, we will work to hold U‑M more accountable in sustaining mutually beneficial partnerships with Indigenous peoples, communities, and nations that recognize and fulfill their rights and aspirations.
We are happy and honored to have helped sponsor this incredible webinar. I want to thank everyone who helped organize it, including Dr. Alicia Ventresca Miller, on behalf of the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, as well as our dedicated Museum staff. Many thanks to moderator Peter Nelson, and you did a great job and thanks on our Panelists Isabel Rivera‑Collazo, Kristina Douglas, Justin Hosbey and Jerrel Singer. Thanks to all of you, the viewers, and thanks for your excellent questions.
Before closing, I just wanted to highlight a few take‑aways from the webinar as I see them, take‑aways, a few of them, out of many.
First of all, that which is destructive to one culture is clearly life giving to another. Peter, you beautifully demonstrated this in your importance of fire on the West Coast.
Second, history and histories of colonization really matter. The exploitative economic relationships we see all around us that cause climate change hurt Indigenous peoples and peoples of color the most. Isabel, your example of wetlands and wetlands you study in Puerto Rico make this case beautifully as wetlands are destroyed for tourism, hurricanes hurt the people of Puerto Rico.
Third, Indigenous people are the solution, not the problem. Kristina, your work on Madagascar looking apt biodiversity demonstrates this wonderfully that Indigenous people help us understand biodiversity and Madagascar.
Fourth, systemic racism is interconnected ‑‑ inextricably with environmental destruction and this was made beautifully clear by Justin, poetically, when he talked about water in Louisiana. Water becomes polluted through things like oil spills, and it’s the people who get hurt most who are then forced to clean it up.
And then finally, fifth, global processes, global politics, war, nuclear power, mining, these are global processes, but they affect people on a local level, and Jerrel said it perfectly when he talked about the effect of these processes on things like food sources and food sovereignty.
So when we as archaeologists study climate change, when we look at ecological change, when we study social inequality, by definition, as Isabel put it, archaeology is resistance and I think that’s the main take‑away from this webinar.
I wanted to close then by directing you to our museum’s colloquium series from the new archaeology to equitable archaeologies, global lessons from Black scholars, fourth talk by Dr. Terrance Welk is on March 4, seen up if you can attend. Please plan to attend next webinar
Finally, and most importantly, please plan to attend the next webinar in the From the Margins to the Mainstream series, titled Black and Indigenous Futures, which will take place
On April 7, 2021.thank you for participating and being here and a big thanks to all of our panel participants. You guys did a fantastic job. Thank you.
(6:05 p.m. EST)
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