Friday, April 2, 2021

 Collaborative Archaeology in Red Cliff, WI

Setting the Example in Modern Archaeology

~ reflections by James Meierhoff, PhD Candidate UIC ~

In the wake of the recent world-wide social movements we have experienced and witnessed lies the future role of anthropology in our society. While present issues of ethnic disparities and economic inequalities have come to the fore, our collective history, our understanding of ourselves as a community, a country, a culture, are also being questioned. How can perspectives and past experiences of all people be included in that history? (One only need to review the issue of historical monuments in the USA for one such debate.) Academically, the subfield of archaeology has been focused on trying to understand and relate to its past – which is deeply rooted in colonial institutions, perspectives, and goals – in order to understand its future. But what is sometimes overlooked is archaeology’s present.

    Perhaps the most productive way forward was demonstrated in March to the CAS and its guests during the presentation Connecting People, Past and Present:  Collaborative Archaeology in Red Cliff, WI. The talk was collaboratively presented by Dr. Heather Walder, Lecturer of Archaeology & Anthropology at UW La Crosse and Marvin DeFoe THPO (Tribal Historic Preservation Officer) of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Their research is based in Frog Bay Tribal National Park, Wisconsin, the first of its kind in the United States.  

    Their project’s framework is based on the concept of “Community Based Participatory Research”, which provides a methodology for engaging Native and local communities as equal partners of archaeological research. The researchers at Frog Bay approach their project collectively:  community stakeholders and traditional archaeologists engage in the research together in an immersive environment, thus providing a platform for differing perspectives to inform the archaeological data generated. This allows Native perspectives to enhance and inform the interpretation of archaeological material collected while  outside researchers (often field school students) can experience what life was like, and in many ways still is, at Frog Bay. 

    At the core of Community Based Research are often divergent but necessarily shared goals. Long gone should be the days of archaeologists simply seeking permission to perform their research in a community for their own ends. Instead, conversations should commence with local, often descendant groups, inquiring how archaeology can enhance understanding of their past, and collectively devise plans on how to accomplish those shared goals together.  The speakers illustrated very well how this can work. 

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