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Working Together


Educating Archaeologists about Indigenous Peoples' Self-Determination in the Land Use Planning Process for Cultural Resources

John Allison

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Because of the feeling with which he said it, Cisco's Ko'an has kept recurring in my mind over the ensuing years. I have realized a great step in understanding what anthropology is all about. After almost 40 years since I took my first undergraduate anthropology course from David Olmsted at the University of California-Davis, I feel that I can understand the implications of a commitment to the concepts behind the buzzwords "cultural diversity" and "multicultural society."

I am using "it" to refer to the matrix, the framework, the medium within which cross-cultural understanding must occur. This has not yet happened. Currently the principle used is still "might makes right," a principle which could backfire in one's face.

People in the mainstream, European American economy, and political system have been going along under the old delusions that these "minority" groups will someday "advance" to their self-same values and perceptions and maybe even the same skin color--witness the old Mormon myth that Africans were cursed with dark skins and that the lighter color of the palms of their hands is an indication that they have been good and God is beginning to remove the curse. The "disappearing" Indians, Asians, Aftricans, Mexicans, etc., are expected to put the past behind them and take on the ways of the currently dominant social group, the "Americans."

At the same time, these whites are making every effort to sustain a European frame of reference into the future. They are admonished by their war chiefs not to forget the sacrifices of their ancestors who came on the Oregon Trail, even though the greatest numbers of "settlers" arrived on the railroad. They maintain their Finnish, Italian, Swedish, German, English, and French social fraternities and festivals. White supremacist groups are gaining power among the European Americans in response to the cultural solidarity of Mexicans, blacks, Indians, Asians, and others. The white "sciences" carry with them not only the objective method, but the philosophical assumptions and interests of their European forebears.

Like most students of anthropology--especially archaeologists--I managed to insulate myself from really understanding the nature and importance of the differences between the worlds in which the differing peoples live; the depths of these separate realities. We "professionals" tend to cover the actuality of these differences with concepts that allow us to believe that these are mutually intelligible. We also tend to retain a linear framework for social evolution from "simple" to "complex," based on our own perception of others' reality. We don't want our boat rocked. After all, we are the experts on these things, and we don't want any uneducated people disturbing our cosmic order. There are a lot of jokes among tribal people about the ignorant anthropologists asking ridiculous questions and getting ridiculous answers from people who don't trust them.

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Toward a Multicultural Nation

Now is the time to confront the hard reality of the actions necessary to provide the various needs of maintaining this cultural diversity apparently valued by our government. We must ask "What are the primary, critical, constituent elements--the cultural ecology--necessary to maintain and enhance these separate social systems and their cultural vitality?"

There are some universal primary elements of a critical cultural ecology for a multicultural nation, varying in specifics from one cultural group to another. Without government, private, community, and corporate support for this ecology for cultural diversity, the drive of these separate cultural groups to survive and grow will break down into open social conflict. We see the makings of this in the polarization that is being recognized in the United States as a result of such events as the O. J. Simpson trial, the siege of Wounded Knee, Ruby Ridge, the Rodney King disaster, the César Chavez leadership of the Mexican farmworkers union. We see it worldwide in such events as have recently taken place in the former Yugoslavia, the former U.S.S.R., the transformation of South Africa, the uprising in Chiapas, and numerous other situations.

If America really wants internal peace and a truly culturally diverse nation, one of the most obvious of these needs that must be supported is education within the "separate reality" of one's own cultural values and of one's own view of history. For most indigenous or "tribal" groups, the connection to their own landscape and its features is probably rivaled only by self-determination in education of their children. Among Native American populations, it is universally documented that their cultural life, in its spiritual aspect as well as its economy, is closely connected to the earth and specifically to the features and qualities of their indigenous landscape. My recent "ethnographic landscape inventory" for the Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin peoples documents this in detail (1994, The Cultural Landscape of the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin Peoples: Spirit, Nature, History. National Park Service National Historic Preservation Grants to Indian Tribes and Alaskan Natives. The Klamath Tribes, Chiloquin, Oregon).

When these bases for cultural integrity are taken away, it is like putting a noose around the neck of that cultural entity. They are then on their way to extinction as a distinct, self-regulating society. Such deprivation of the basic elements necessary for a group to control its own people's destiny is a common and complex process that goes with colonial conquest such as the one that took place in the United States. This process is sometimes called "enclosure."

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The Current State of CRM

So, I tend to get a little impatient, in 1995, reading articles by archaeologists who still don't get "it." They continue to fail to recognize that what they are calling cultural resource "sites" are--for the most part--archaeological deposits whose components are divided by soil. The "site" or the place means nothing to them. They don't write their professional papers or teach their students about places. They deal in the distance between and physical-chemical qualities of the archaeological items or areas in time and space and in a story about how these relate to species of animals and plants in the landscape contemporary to a particular timeframe. They couldn't care less about the actual place as an experience, at least not in the articles I've read. Oh, they may also make some remarks or write a poem about the place, but their "professional" reports do not make this central to their "scientific" focus.

These archaeological items and soil residues, etc., in the context of their temporal-spatial relationships do not comprise "cultural resources," but are merely a resource to archaeologists who make up stories about these relationships between a people's marks left long ago and the other aspects of the physical landscape at that time. "Cultural resources" are resources to a living culture, not just the stuff of inquiry and theory-building for a specialized intellectual path descending from European cultures.

The only case in which the archaeological markers that say "site" to the archaeologist are not cultural resources is when there are no concerned, living descendants of the aboriginal or invading group who made it an "activity area." And whenever it is a cultural resource, the group for which it is that has prior rights in management and planning for that place. Of course if there are no legitimate heirs still alive who claim or would like to claim these rights, then it is strictly an archaeological site, and not a cultural resource site; and you guys who dig it can have it. But, if there are real attempts at locating these peoples and if real consultation takes place, there are few sites with archaeological values that are not also someone's cultural resources.

Archaeology is a part of the study of cultures and histories known as cultural anthropology. It is a set of tools and associated techniques for using these tools for their contribution to what any individual in any society can observe. A shovel, a screen, a compass or surveyor's instrument, a meter tape, a magnifying glass and microscope: these are the main tools, ones that can be mastered by any person with basic learning skills. Beyond this they may use a set of hi-tech tools and techniques borrowed from geology and biology using mathematical notations and statistical theory to analyze such things as the age of a broken rock or to determine the animal source of residue of blood on an arrowhead--work that is usually contracted out by the archaeologist to a specialized laboratory. All the rest of academic European American archaeology is a conceptual framework that can be shown to derive from interests and assumptions inherited from European intellectual history.

The definition and value of cultural resources are both relative to each specific culture. For example, if "site" means anything at all to members of a specific society in a way that approximates its general use in cultural resource management in the English language, it has more to do with the nature of that place than with the deposits that that society's former activities leave there, even when those things were left there intentionally, such as rock art.

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Changes Are on the Way

Some cultural resource managers are, finally, getting "it." See some of the recent literature by anthropologists/archaeologists who are now serving indigenous peoples' governments in the field of cultural resource management. For example, see John Kinahan's "The Hills and the Rain Are Also an Elephant: Ritual and Environment in Namibian Rock Art" (paper delivered at World Archaeological Congress 3, New Delhi, India, 4-11 December 1994).

"Not only is there close similarity between trance experience and the habits and appearance of certain animal species, but the depiction of these in the rock art takes into account both natural features of the rock and the positioning of the site. In this way, the rock art gives the impression that it is mapped onto the physical and biotic environment of the sites. This supports the further proposition that rock art sites define a landscape mediated by ritual activity" (Kinahan 1994).

This is not a new idea around this area where I live either, where the World Renewal ceremony stops cars on the Klamath River Highway once a year as the Karuk people ceremonially walk from one important spot to the other to complete the necessary ritual relation with the Earth. The walking and the place(s) with all its lifeforms and landforms and that above and below is the "site."

Now, a particular society has a choice to use or not use the archaeological methodology associated with European American tradition, depending on other values and their own approach to telling the history of their place(s).

With this kind of orientation in mind, the Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin Cultural Resource Management Enterprise (KLAMOYA CREME) was formed by a board of directors all of whom are acknowledged as members of these local communities. CREME has been trying to educate those who control the land use planning process across the aboriginal lands. They believe that even within United States' law, there is a tacit acknowledgment of cultural relativity. This is the premise, for example, of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, and in the 1992 amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act, which specifically acknowledges their inherent, aboriginal right to act as their own "SHPO," according to their own self-determination in CRM on "Indian Lands" (a term that varies from the perspective of one group to another, from indigenous peoples to U.S. agency employee).

The board of directors is taking this to the county and city planning departments, and both parties are learning new things. One of the things that the city and county planners and the federal agency cultural resource/heritage resource managers are learning is that they can no longer dictate "a precise definition of `cultural resources'" as W. R. Haase did for Ledyard, Connecticut:

Cultural Resource: consists of historic or prehistoric archaeological sites and standing structures; cemeteries, human burials, human skeletal remains, and associated funerary objects; and distributions of cultural remains and artifacts. (Haase 1995, "Archaeology, Land Use, and Development: Educating Communities Through Comprehensive Planning" CRM: 18(3):18-20).

The paragraph above may define resources to the culture of archaeologists, but I doubt that it defines resources to the culture of the local peoples who each hold long-term and recent simultaneous versions of the history (not the "prehistory" and "history") of the place(s) he calls Ledyard. It seems--from the perspective of an indigenous people's cultural resource management rights--to be a totally inappropriate and a nakedly political/business sales pitch on the part of an archaeologist for him to preach:

"But the archaeological community--both professional and amateur--must take the lead and carry the banner of archaeological protection to city hall, and to the local boards and commissions who must in turn adopt comprehensive plans and enforce the regulations" (Haase 1995:20).

There will be no nice and neat bulleted lists of step-by-step recipes that must be followed by the member societies in a multicultural national society--each member a sovereign society living in "it." There will be no simple recipe for "mitigation"; these must come from the consensus of individuals in each of the member societies that share the land of this multicultural society. There is only one process that I can tell you to follow--to be defined in each case anew--and that is the process of "consultation."

After witnessing Chiapas, South Africa, the U.S.S.R. and Yugoslavia; after long ago reading the work of American anthropologists such as Kathleen Gough Aberle, who understand that there is a relationship between the historic development of anthropology and imperialism; and, after all these words, need I explain any further? You shouldn't need a professional weatherman, certified by the American Meteorological Society, to tell you which way the wind blows: "The times they are achangin'."

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John Allison is technical advisor to the all-tribal board of directors of the Klamath, Modoc, Yahooskin Cultural Resource Management Enterprise (KLAMOYA CREME).

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