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Notes on "Unsettling the Past"

(I haven't finished watching this yet.)

"Unsettling the Past: Radically Reimagining Archaeological Knowledge" is a webinar critical archaelogy from Black feminist and Indigenous perspectives.

Moderator Whitney Battle-Baptiste leads by asking the panel, "How have you reimagined the past through material culture?"

Cheryl White, who is the Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Suriname, answers first, saying that Suriname has been, in the past five to six years, reconstructing their government archaeological services, from very little previous instition. White has also been a participant observer in the development of Maroon heritage boundaries.

When doing their dissertation, White became fascinated with the ancestral settlements of Maroon people and the connection between those settlements and Maroon history.

Sven Haakanson uses material culture to work with his own Indigenous community, to "put it back into a living context, so they can start celebrating who they are." (This phrasing/idea of "taking history and using it for a living context" seems important to Haakanson's point.)

Mateo Romero shares a piece he made that mimicks/mocks archaeologists' historic role, where the Pueblo people have been the object in a subject-object relationship, which I take to demonstrate how useless the colonial approach to archaeology can be. (His piece also touches on concepts of satire, cultural appropriation, media literacy.)

There were just these bizzare conversations that would come up. These non-Natives would show up and they would have this sort of authority, they'd talk about this stuff like it was canon, and it was actually all imagined.

Sara Gonzalez says this "plays on a long tradition in archaeology of the archaeologist being the storytellers of an archaeological record that was not produced, by and large, by the community they're a part of."

Gonzalez sees themselves as a "witness of a material record of belongings that are owned," that's how she's reimagined it; setting aside her relatoinship as a storyteller and trying to form a new relationship with communities.

"All of this work is dependent on the relationships with tribal communities I have built. The perspectives I have developed are a direct result of the knowledge they have shared with me and entrusted me with."

Battle-Baptiste talks about how archaeologists can remove the "painting" of subject-object then leads to the next question:

"What hand does archaeology by and for Black and Indigenous communities have in the creation of radically reimagined pasts? What impact does this work have on the present, and what do you think the work implies for the future?

Cheryl White answers first. Institutional and community-based archaeology are both new in Suriname, and so are growing together. There's been an effort to explain the benefit of science to Indigenous and Maroon people, who are often placed into adversarial positions with colonial institutions.

They see a lot of decolonization discussion within archaeology as asking, "What does heritage mean, legally?"

In Suriname, Indigenous and Maroon inhabit 95% of the land, only coasts are colonized. They are "essentially gatekeepers to the forest… It's akin to being in someone's backyard and never knocking on their front door."

"Communities have gotten very savvy," and understand that whoever engages with the archaeologists needs to work to bring information and utility back to their community. White relates this back to the "rights-based approach" to decolonization.

Mateo Romero says that in the southwest USA, we're seeing an emergence of "nontraditional roles in archaeology and curation." 30 years ago it was all White men, now it's many people, including those outside traditional archaeology. "With younger Native students we're seeing seeing a literal Indigenous voice, not some of proxy or imagined connection but this literal outpouring of voice from the community."

"Instead of the subject-object discourse… you get a more nuanced approach based in… language… gender perspectives… ideologies…"

"I love it, for 30 years I've been kicking around talking to the same people about pottery, and now I'm hearing alternative amazing things coming out, and I love that."

Gonzalez says, "reimagining the past requires reimagining the present that we occupy." They relate that to the representation of BIPOC youth in archaeology, and how that's a direct consequence of the hard work of the previous generation of scholars.

Gonzalez points out that Haakanson was only the fifth Indigenous archaeologist with a PhD, and a recent list says there's only 33, but we're now seeing the fruits of their labor, with the latest generation, and so BIPOC perspectives might be mainstream soon in archaeology.

White asks if Gonzalez sees this as the "indigenization" of archaeology in the US as intentional or accidental, and shares some background of archaeology in Suriname, where it was traditionally a consequence of industry under Dutch control, but the recent institutionalization of Suriname has very much centered indigeneity.

Gonzalez reckons yes, saying there were a few central figures, e.g. schools that changed their graduate admission programs. Gonzalez highlights University of California, Berkeley as one of the earliest, and now their graduates are assuming roles in the faculty in other institutions. Gonzalez says clearly yes, the intention of the earlier archaeologists is evident. University of Massachusetts, Amherst, University of Washington also is a good one. (Hakaanson works at University of Washington.)

Haakanson adds that a lot of this changed after the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act gave Indigenous people a voice, but also "showed us we could have a career in this." "We're able to say 'this is who we are' rather than have someone come in and say 'this is who you are,'… and that really does radically change how we see our past."

White wonders about their own role in Surinamese archaeology, as a "transplant" to the country. White says they're not "here to borrow your watch to tell you the time." White asks if there's a disconnect between the Indigenous community and archaeology, from Haakanson's perspective? To the "people who are like, 'we live this, we don't need to ossify it in the halls of some museum?'"

Haakanson says they live with their community, and tries to make sure their work is good within their work as a museum curator, and their work within their community. "It keeps us sharing the story but helps us push that same story of truth of who we are forward."

Date: 2020-12-19 Sat 18:03

Author: emsenn

Created: 2021-01-30 Sat 10:44