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Committee on Native American Relations

Joe Watkins

At the 60th annual SAA meetings in Minneapolis, the Task Force on Native American/SAA Relations presented its report to the Executive Board. The Executive Board recognized that a single report could not sufficiently address the range of concerns of many Native American groups, and also that the work started by the task force should not be considered complete. Consequently, the Executive Board established the task force as an advisory committee.



The task force on Native American/SAA Relations had its inception at the Society's 55th Annual Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada. President Jeremy Sabloff charged the task force to advise the society on how to make a programmatic beginning in bettering its communications and working relationships with Native American communities. President Sabloff asked Roger Anyon to chair the task force, and Anyon contacted individuals who were interested in its objectives. By October 31, 1990, the task force was complete, with Roger Anyon (chair), and members Allan Bramlette, Sarah Campbell, June Noelani Cleghorn, Linda Ellanna, Patrick Garrow, Andrea Hunter, Robert Kelly, Rick Knecht, Kevin McBride, and Joe Watkins.

Anyon's letter of appointment to the task force asked each member to outline his or her ideas on the following: (1) major issues in the relationship between Native Americans and archaeologists, (2) issues that need to be resolved, (3) how the task force should solicit input from tribal groups, and (4) possible funding sources for a conference.

In September 1992, the task force was reorganized with Joe Watkins (chair), Robert Kelly (vice-chair), and Roger Anyon as the task force liaison to the Executive Board. The remaining members were Allan Bramlette, Kurt Dongoske, Craig Gerlach, Patrick Garrow, Andrea Hunter, and Rick Knecht. Each member was asked to define a single issue affecting the relationship between Native Americans and SAA, and to examine that issue in detail. This allowed the task force to focus on specific issues rather than deal only in generalities.

At the same time, the task force worked to develop a questionnaire to poll the SAA membership about issues and relationships with Native American groups. Various drafts circulated through the task force, with a "final" draft submitted to the SAA Executive Director's office for review in December 1994. Unfortunately, our request for a review to the proposed questionnaire occurred just as the SAA began a comprehensive revision of its procedures and guidelines for involving the SAA membership in studies, including the methods of data collection, the ownership of data, use of the results, the types of research undertaken, and so forth. The new procedures are only now being formalized. Because of the uncertain time frame for reviewing the questionnaire, we decided to postpone the project until the new procedures are in place.

As a result of the task force's work, we were able to identify several issues concerning Native American and SAA relations and to provide the following recommendations.

Issues and Recommendations


* Continuing relationships between Native Americans and the Society for American Archaeology


* Establish a committee with regional representation

The task force recommended the formation of a Committee on Native American Relations to monitor Native American issues so that SAA can be an active organization rather than a reactive one. The committee will also provide a liaison with other SAA committees regarding Native American issues, as well as work to encourage Native American involvement in SAA to the greatest extent possible. It also recommended that the committee reflect regional and national representation and that Native Americans who are not professional anthropologists be included as committee members.

* Relationships between the Society for American Archaeology and other relevant organizations

* Establish a liaison with the National Museum of the American Indian and the Keepers of the Treasures organization and strengthen existing relationships with other organizations concerning Native American issues

The creation of the National Museum of the American Indian has brought forth many positive changes in the relationship between American Indians and the museum community, while the continued development of the Keepers of the Treasures (an organization dedicated to the retention and preservation of cultural, traditional, and ritualistic rites of Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians) offers hope for interaction between more traditional Native Americans and archaeologists. We recommended that the Executive Board pursue formal relationships between the Society for American Archaeology and the National Museum for the American Indian, as well as with Keepers of the Treasures. It is also important that the society strengthen relationships with the Society for Applied Anthropology and other organizations, including the American Anthropological Association, that deal with the anthropology of Native Americans to develop consistent, discipline-wide policies.

* Responsibility of the archaeologist to Native American communities

* Encourage ethical behavior

Native American communities often do not distinguish archaeologists as a group from pothunters, graverobbers, and other groups destructive to native culture. A statement on ethics would facilitate the separation of archaeologists from these groups, and we urge SAA members to embrace the general ethics statements proposed by the Society's Committee for Ethics in Archaeology (specifically the "Responsibilities of Archaeologists to Other Interest Groups"). At the same time, archaeologists need to recognize their responsibilities to Native American communities, which include confidentiality of ethnographic information developed during research.

* Public education of both Native American groups and archaeologists

* Encourage education through the formation of a Native American subcommittee of the Public Education Committee

A special effort must be made to educate Native American groups about archaeology; similarly, archaeologists should be receptive to education offered by Native American groups. A special subcommittee within the Public Education Committee, working in conjunction with the Committee on Native American Relations, can tailor educational outreach programs to Native American communities to show more fully what archaeology can offer them and to better communicate the things these communities would like to educate archaeologists about.

* Lack of communication between archaeologists and Native American communities

* Encourage members to establish meaningful dialogues with Native American communities

The task force recognizes the need for archaeologists to involve Native American communities at the earliest possible phase of research in order to obtain tribal input into the project and to develop research meaningful to all parties involved. Native American communities impacted by research should also be provided with popular accounts of their research in addition to scientific reports.

* The destruction of the cultural resources of the Americas

* Encourage the protection of shared resources through education, communication, and cooperation

Both native people and archaeologists view cultural material as a resource to be protected from destruction. However, native people often view archaeologists as a source of destruction only one step removed from pothunters. SAA members should involve Native American groups in our goal of protecting shared resources early in all planning sessions set up for such purposes.

* The excavation and disposition of Native American human remains

* Encourage SAA members to develop working relationships with Native American groups in their area of research prior to undertaking research that might lead to the discovery of human remains

Most task force members felt that reburial and repatriation issues head the list of concerns of Native American groups. Although these concerns are the focus of SAA's Task Force on Repatriation, it is nearly impossible to separate these very emotional issues from the broader concerns of the Native American relations committee. Human remains, when encountered during an excavation, and when not covered by legislation such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, must be treated in an entirely different manner than when such materials are already within a museum or similar institution. As such, pre-excavation agreements and strong working relationships between groups will enable all parties to understand the processes involved.

* Develop guidelines concerning requests for the return of human remains and/or cultural material by non-recognized or non-tribal Native American groups

The legislative intent of NAGPRA is to return human remains and certain classes of cultural items to the Native American groups from which they originally came. In recognition of the intent of NAGPRA, the society (perhaps through its Task Force on Repatriation) needs to provide more specific guidance to individuals and institutions for groups who are requesting repatriation, but who do not qualify for consideration under NAGPRA, and for requests for the return of human remains and other cultural materials that are not covered under NAGPRA.

The Committee on Native American Relations

The committee met in Minneapolis with the original task force members and leadership. Additional members were added, bringing the total number of members to 17. Committee members (in alphabetical order) are Bruce Bradley, Sue Ann Curtis, Kurt Dongoske, Leonard Fors-man, Patrick Garrow, Rebecca Hawkins, Andrea Hunter, Robert Kelly, Rick Knecht, Dorothy Lippert, Angela Steiner, Scott Stuemke, Joe Watkins, and Diana Yupe.

We developed some short-range goals, with the primary goal being an autumn conference among committee members, Native Americans, and other interested parties to generate a mission statement and action items for the committee, and to establish middle- and long-range goals. Also, we established formal relationships and opened communication links between the committee and two subcommittees of the SAA's Public Education Committee.

Future plans are to involve more non-anthropologist Native Americans in the committee and to establish improved relationships with native communities across the United States.

If you would be interested in working with this committee, would like additional information, or would like to recommend someone for consideration for committee appointment, contact any member of the committee, Robert Kelly, or me in care of the SAA Executive Office.

Joe Watkins, who is the Chair of the Native American Relations Task Force, is with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

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