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Review "Native Americans and Archaeologists"
February 26, 1999

An adjunct assistant professor of anthropology of the University of Oklahoma, Joe Watkins reviewed Indians and Anthropologists: Vine Deloria, Jr., and the Critique of Anthropology (1997) and Native Americans and Archaeologists: Stepping Stones to Common Ground (1997) in our September/October 1997 issue. "Few people," he says, "have discussed and defined the impact of anthropology on American Indians as publicly as Vine Deloria, Jr. I remember reading an excerpt from his book Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto (1969).... As an American Indian majoring in anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, I was struck not only by the berating of my chosen field but also by the caustic wit that carried that dressing down to the heart of the issue." Indians and Anthropologists is a collection of 11 essays stemming from a 1989 American Anthropological Association symposium focusing on Deloria's influence on the field of anthropology. It offers insights into the changes anthropology has undergone in relation to American Indian issues since Custer was published, but Native Americans and Archaeologists, the result of three symposia held at the 1996 meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, examines the relationship between American Indians and archaeology today, according to Watkins.

"Both Indians and Anthropologists and Native Americans and Archaeologists," he concludes, "offer the reader information on the conflict between American Indians and scholars, as seen by those who wish to study, record, and enlist American Indians in the disciplines of anthropology and archaeology, and by those who have been the subject of those efforts. ...They illustrate the benefits of anthropology and the burdens borne by those who come under anthropology's scrutiny. They show how anthropologists in the past have acted in their quest for answers about the history of precontact America and document the changing viewpoints of anthropologists in response to changing situations. We are no longer 'Indiana Jones,' dropping into a village to take the best and brightest artifacts. We now work with native people throughout the world to develop histories with meaning to us all."

The full text of Joe Watkins' review appears below.

Redlining Archaeology
by Joe Watkins

When Thomas Jefferson excavated an Indian burial mound in Virginia in 1784, he became America's first archaeologist or America's first graverobber, depending on your point of view. One hundred years later anthropologists and museums were recording what they thought were vanishing native cultures. But it was not until the civil unrest of the 1960s that members of those cultures, which had not vanished, questioned anthropology's right to study them. Since then, anthropologists and American Indians have been involved in a sometimes heated conflict over each other's role in the science that studies cultural issues. Now, with the publication of two important books that take a critical look at the discipline and its interactions with American Indians, both sides can reexamine the issues that have fueled the conflict and perhaps develop a more equitable partnership.

Few people have discussed and defined the impact of anthropology on American Indians as publicly as Vine Deloria, Jr. I remember reading an excerpt from his book Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto (New York: Macmillan, 1969) published in an issue of Playboy. As an American Indian majoring in anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, I was struck not only by the berating of my chosen field but also by the caustic wit that carried that dressing down to the heart of the issue. Deloria's comment that anthropologists are not concerned with developing policies that will affect the Indian people, but merely the "creation of new slogans and doctrines by which they can climb the University totem pole" was a tongue-in-cheek, yet accurate, depiction of the "publish-or-perish" tenure systems in most college departments. That article and its exposure of the conflict between American Indians and "anthros" formed the basis of my Ph.D. research 25 years later.

Deloria is a Sioux Indian from South Dakota who earned a B.S. from Iowa State University, an M.Th. from the Lutheran School of Theology, and a J.D. from the University of Colorado. Custer is a sometimes hilarious, sometimes outrageous, but always insightful, examination of Native American issues as they appeared in the late 1960s. A hybridization of his background, Deloria's writings are as often an irreverent examination of a philosophical issue written with an attorney's exactitude as they are a tightly focused indictment drawing heavily on theological teachings.

Indians and Anthropologists: Vine Deloria, Jr., and the Critique of Anthropology is a collection of 11 essays focusing on Deloria's influence on the field of anthropology. Edited by Thomas Biolsi of Portland State University and Larry J. Zimmerman of the University of Iowa, this volume is the result of a symposium on the same topic held at the 1989 meeting of the American Anthropological Association.

"Part One. Deloria Writes Back" examines the impact of his writings on anthropologists' study of American Indians and places him in context with the discipline. Elizabeth Grobsmith of the University of Colorado writes that "Deloria's view of anthropology is probably as biased as the anthropologist's perception of what is good for Indian communities," but in the next paragraph recognizes that "Deloria's impact on our discipline has been such that working with any ethnic or cultural group now reflects a different protocol than before." Grobsmith feels anthropologists are now more aware of the impact of their studies on the economic, social, and personal lives of their informants, and less oriented toward personal research goals that have no relevancy to the group under consideration.

The impact of Deloria's criticism of archaeology is the focus of "Part Two. Archaeology and American Indians." Randall McGuire of the University of Binghamton takes archaeologists to task for believing that they are the only competent stewards of the past, and calls for increased involvement of Native Americans in the discipline. He notes that changing attitudes over the past five years have demonstrated that archaeologists are more willing to include American Indian concerns in their programs and that new ethical stances are bringing Native Americans and archaeologists together in a shared commitment to the past. These new lines of communication have opened up "a dialogue with Indian peoples that will fundamentally alter the practice of archaeology in the United States." Larry Zimmerman likewise criticizes archaeologists for their zealous adherence to a belief in the right of science to prevent the reburial of human remains held in museums solely for the sake of science, and speaks to the need for anthropologists and indigenous peoples to share control of the past.

"Part Three. Ethnography and Colonialism" looks at the relationship between the discipline of anthropology and the system within which it prospered. Gail Landsman's (SUNY Albany) essay on the "sociology of anthropology itself" analyses a conflict between Iroquoianist scholars and Iroquois traditionalists over a curriculum resource guide written by Iroquois people, exploring the question, Who should offer the "true" representation of a group's history, a traditional person who is a member of the group, or an outsider who has spent a career studying the group?

The final essay, written by Deloria, continues his exploration of the relationships between anthropologists and American Indians at the end of the twentieth century. "Anthros, Indians, and Planetary Reality" discusses a record that is "considerably better than [what] we saw from the anthropological community in the late 1960s," but it also contains conflicting statements. Deloria notes that "there has been no concerted effort by...anthros...to open the ranks of the discipline to American Indians," but he later states when "prominent Indian anthros have announced at Indian meetings, 'I am an Indian, but I'm also an anthro'...the individual has chosen the profession over the community" and that "unless they prove momentarily useful [as anthropologists] they are never trusted again and people avoid them whenever possible." Does Deloria truly believe it beneficial for American Indians to become anthropologists, when, if they do, they will be distrusted by anthropologists and American Indians alike?

A more revealing glimpse of Deloria's views concerning anthropology can be obtained by reading Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995). In his opening chapter, "Behind the buckskin curtain," Deloria claims that "much of Western science must go, all of Western religion should go" and blames Western science and technology for the status of American Indians as second-class citizens. Deloria's use of outdated texts and discarded theories weakens much of the possible effectiveness of this work, but it has a place as a native voice trying to remind scientists how we often pit traditional religion against the religion of science.

While the self-examination (and sometimes self-deprecation) in Indians and Anthropologists gives the reader an insight into the changes anthropology has undergone in relation to American Indian issues over the 28 years since the publication of Custer, another volume, Native Americans and Archaeologists: Stepping Stones to Common Ground, offers an opportunity to examine the relationship between American Indians and archaeology as it stands today.

Native Americans and Archaeologists, a utilitarian look at archaeology and American Indian issues, is the result of three symposia held at the 1996 meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in New Orleans. Conceived independently, the symposia were organized into a thematic forum titled "Exploring the Relations Between Native Americans and Archaeologists," which examined Native American and archaeologists' views of how the two groups can better their relationships.

The editors of this volume were among the symposia organizers. Their work--editing and publishing the 25 papers in less than a year--is a direct result of a commitment to make this volume available to everyone interested in the topic. The authors are a diverse group of American Indians and archaeologists, and the editors were committed to ensuring that the views of "Native American representatives from tribes throughout the United States, professional archaeologists and anthropologists who work for tribes, federal and state agency representatives, museum specialists, and private archaeological and anthropological consultants" were all accurately reflected with minimal changes from the original presentations. For this reason, the quality of the papers varies from highly polished essays to more personal discussions of the role and relevancy of archaeology to American Indians.

While the editors recognize common, recurrent themes in the essays--the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act; consultation; the relevance of archaeology to tribes--many other issues are addressed in one form or another. A careful reading will allow one to understand not only the personal insights each author brings to the volume, but also the myriad issues that impact anyone who practices (or wishes to practice) archaeology.

"Section I: Historic Overview" is a summary of the relationship between American Indians and archaeologists by Navajo Nation historic preservation officer Alan Downer that serves as a backdrop for the remaining papers. The papers in "Section II: Changing the Paradigms" run the gamut from academic discourses to legal analyses to personalized examinations of the role of archaeology to American Indians. Gary White Deer, a regional director of Keepers of the Treasures (the cultural council of American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians), offers a personal view of one chasm that separates archaeologists and tribal nations: "While tribal governments may recognize the validity of archaeology, this discipline, in turn, has never seriously considered Native American spirituality as relevant to its own concepts and practices."

"Section III: The Integration of Tradition and Science" is an examination of not only archaeology as a scientific discipline, but also the ways that tribal people have tried (or are trying) to integrate the discipline into a tribal outlook or into tribal programs. Leonard Forsman, former director of the Suquamish Tribal Cultural Center, and Dorothy Lippert, an anthropology doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, provide revealing discussions of their self-examination as tribal members who also happen to be archaeologists. As Lippert notes, "We look through an emotional lens that is knowingly constructed through our blood, the genetic characteristics of which echo in the bones of our ancestors."

The value of archaeology to tribal groups throughout the United States is considered in "Section IV: Relevance of Archaeology to Tribes." Billy Cypress, executive director of the Seminole Tribal Museum Authority, points out how archaeology has been extremely informative in business and land use planning on the reservation, but ultimately realizes that each group needs the other: "the Seminole Tribe of Florida needs archaeologists for selected projects that meet worthwhile goals. The archaeologists, in turn, must respect the cultural wishes and practices of the tribe."

"Section V: A Look at Consultation" examines the ways that both American Indians and archaeologists view the failings and shortcomings of consultation between the groups, and how things must be changed to facilitate the process and increase intergroup communication. Reba Fuller, of the Central Sierra Me-Wuk Cultural and Historic Preservation Committee, reiterates that many tribal groups feel they have lost their visibility to the archaeologist, and that consultation reestablishes the group as a living entity with rights. Finally, "Section VI: Commentary" offers an overview on the volume as a whole, bringing together the ways that the various authors have addressed issues between archaeologists and American Indians.

Both Indians and Anthropologists and Native Americans and Archaeologists offer the reader information on the conflict between American Indians and scholars, as seen by those who wish to study, record, and enlist American Indians in the disciplines of anthropology and archaeology, and by those who have been the subject of those efforts. While both books offer a critical examination of the relationships researchers have developed with Native Americans, they are not too similar to be redundant. Each fills its niche admirably and they will be used by archaeologists and anthropologists as primers on understanding the relationship between those who study culture and those who are studied.

But the books are more than just academic treatises written for scholars. Anyone interested in anthropology or American Indians will enjoy these books. They illustrate the benefits of anthropology and the burdens borne by those who come under anthropology's scrutiny. They show how anthropologists in the past have acted in their quest for answers about the history of precontact America and document the changing viewpoints of anthropologists in response to changing situations. We are no longer "Indiana Jones," dropping into a village to take the best and brightest artifacts. We now work with native people throughout the world to develop histories with meaning to us all.

Indians and Anthropologists: Vine Deloria, Jr., and the Critique of Anthropology. T. Biolsi and L. Zimmerman, eds. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1997. Cloth $45.00, ISBN 0-8165-1606-5; paper $19.95, ISBN 0-8165-1607-3.

Native Americans and Archaeologists: Stepping Stones to Common Ground. N. Swidler, K. Dongoske, R. Anyon, and A. Downer, eds. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 1997. Cloth $49.00, ISBN 0-7619-8900-5; paper $24.95, ISBN 0-7619-8901-3.

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© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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