Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Working Together

The Integration of Traditional and Scientific Knowledge on Leech Lake Reservation, Cass Lake, Minnesota

Rose Kluth

When asked to submit an article for the Working Together column, I experienced the same reactions that I always do when asked to represent the reservation on tribal issues--apprehension followed by a sense of responsibility. The reason for this is simple--I am a non-Indian archaeologist who believes that Indian people should represent themselves regarding these sensitive issues that are very close to their heart. However, the reason that I was employed by the reservation was to do exactly this--bring their opinions and ideas directly to the archaeological community by using my acquired training and skills. For this reason and because they have entrusted me with their knowledge, I feel a responsibility to bring this information to you through this forum.

Traditional vs. Scientific Knowledge
Integrating scientific and traditional knowledge on archaeological projects is an attainable goal. However, there are inherent challenges in combining these approaches. We have been successful in incorporating traditional and scientific research in the Leech Lake Heritage Sites Program. While this approach may not work for all tribes due to differing perspectives on archaeology, our program has served the needs of the Leech Lake Reservation well. I will first present a discussion of the mission and objectives of the Leech Lake Heritage Sites Program, offering examples of integrating traditional knowledge into Section 106 compliance and tribal archaeology projects.

The Leech Lake Heritage Sites Program is a part of the Division of Resource Management of Leech Lake Reservation in north-central Minnesota. The objective of our program is to provide cultural resource management services from a Native American perspective. These services are provided to federal and state agencies, and include all facets of Section 106 compliance. We exclusively hire Native Americans to participate in this program, and provide training supplemented with on-the-job education. What sets our program apart from others is that the employees provide us with a unique perspective about prehistoric cultural materials, as well as how to deal with sensitive sites and objects in a manner that is acceptable to their cultural beliefs.

Typically, Native Americans have not been encouraged to participate in the preservation process. Traditional beliefs have led some Native American people to avoid the field entirely. In the past, most archaeological fieldwork was performed by non-Native Americans, and the resulting reports were reviewed by non-Native Americans, even if the project involved tribal lands. At no point in the process was there a mechanism for Native American review or consultation, even if burials were involved. This process has changed dramatically within the last decade, with the implementation of federal legislation such as NAGPRA and the 1992 amendments to the National Historic Preservation Act. At last, the time has arrived for Native Americans to play a primary role in the preservation process.

Before discussing the integration of traditional and scientific archaeology, we must define both. Traditional knowledge is a compilation of the knowledge of tribal culture history, past and present lifeways, language, spirituality, rituals, and ceremonies. This knowledge is gained by living the culture and by listening to the stories and oral histories of elders, parents, and grandparents. Scientific knowledge is knowledge that is obtained through testable and reproducible data. Archaeological data, and the means employed to obtain that data, are, for the purposes of this discussion, an example of scientific knowledge.

Incorporating Traditional Knowledge in Section 106 Compliance Work
In order to accurately convey the process of integrating traditional and scientific knowledge within our program, I will first discuss the incorporation of tradition on a daily basis. Following this, four projects will be presented. Each project is an example of what we consider to be the successful integration of both traditional and scientific knowledge.

Daily Traditions
When the cultural resources management program was created, the employees were consulted about their concerns regarding archaeological fieldwork. Several individuals mentioned that their grandmothers had told them never to work on or near burial sites, and that they should smudge themselves with sage or cedar every morning before work. They were also instructed to place tobacco on the ground before excavating. This was to be done as a sign of respect to Mother Earth for the disturbance that was about to take place. They were warned that if they did not do these things, they or their families might be hurt. Also, they expressed concern about the use of alcohol on the job--this must be avoided in order to maintain respect with the spirit world and Mother Earth. After hearing their concerns, we assured them that an ample supply of cedar, sage, and tobacco would be on hand for them to complete these functions before beginning fieldwork, and any necessary ceremonies should be completed as they saw fit. By doing this we have created an atmosphere that is comfortable and respectful to the needs of the crew without in any way affecting contractual needs or specifications.

The Ogema-Geshik Site
In summer 1993 we were asked to investigate a possible archaeological site disturbance in the northwestern corner of the reservation. A survey to determine site limits was initiated, as was an evaluation of the level of site disturbance.

Shovel tests were placed on a 10-m grid in order to determine the horizontal and vertical extent of the site. During shovel testing, four bear claws were found in a single shovel test. The bear claws were removed and bagged for transport back to the lab, along with the other artifacts located that day. Later, one of the crew members, speaking with the field director, said that he was a member of the Bear Clan and requested that the field director place the bear claws back where they were found. The field director complied, and the bear claws were reburied in their original location. The crew member placed tobacco near this location. This individual was satisfied with the resolution, and felt comfortable with our reporting the information in the final archaeology report.

Fieldwork continued at the site, and the crew located human remains. These remains were immediately reburied by the same crew members. They then placed tobacco near the area where the remains were found, as well as a dish with food for the spirit of that individual. They spoke to the spirit, asking the spirit to understand that they meant no harm, and that they would move away from the area. The crew members discussed the situation with the field director and requested that they move their shovel tests back at least 200 ft from this area, as they felt that it was a very sacred area that must not be disturbed. We complied, continuing our survey, and were able to delineate site limits without further disturbance to the sacred areas. We uncovered the remains of an important prehistoric wild ricing site, obtained the information needed to make an assessment of the site, and the crew felt comfortable working in the area because proper respect had been paid to the sacred areas.

U.S. Tribal Highway (U.S.T.H.) 169 Project
In summer 1995 we completed an archaeological survey for the Minnesota Department of Transportation along a portion of U.S.T.H. 169 in north-central Minnesota, near the Mille Lacs Reservation. We maintained daily contact with Mille Lacs Reservation staff, informing them of our progress. Before excavating test units, an intact catlinite pipe was found eroding from a bank located above an old roadbed. When the pipe was discovered, we immediately contacted Mille Lacs Reservation staff, who met us at the site. The crew members did not remove the pipe from the ground, but rather left it in situ for the Mille Lacs staff to observe. The Mille Lacs staff wanted the pipe reburied immediately as they felt that it indicated the presence of an Ojibwe burial site. They reburied the pipe out of the proposed right-of-way, west of the area where it was found. Our crew was instructed to place our test units away from the area where the pipe was originally located. We respected their concerns and completed our excavations away from this area. As a result of our fieldwork, we determined that this site was eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. We were able to complete the archaeological fieldwork, yet respect the concerns and traditional beliefs of the Mille Lacs Reservation representatives.

In fall 1993 we received more than 200 museum inventories of sacred objects, unassociated funerary objects, and objects of cultural patrimony that may have been associated with the Leech Lake Anishinabe people. In order to begin the NAGPRA process, the Leech Lake Tribal Council created an elder council, called the Leech Lake Advisory Council on Cultural Resources. The council was to work with the heritage sites program director in deciding whether these objects should be repatriated. After many prayers, meetings and discussions, the elder council determined that the way to proceed was to combine oral and written histories regarding these objects. The council asked me to visit all museums in Minnesota in order to determine if their collections contained items that could be attributed to the Leech Lake Anishinabe people. If so, these objects would be brought back to the reservation and dealt with in the proper traditional manner. All of the meetings to date have involved much prayer and a great deal of discussion regarding the old ways and the proper and respectful disposition of these objects. However, the council has chosen to rely on existing museum records to determine which objects came from the Leech Lake Anishinabe people and has combined both written and oral histories in its work with NAGPRA.

Pug Hole-Klein Lot Site
In summer 1995 we completed an archaeological survey on Leech Lake Reservation tribal lands before leasing a lakeshore lot. A previously recorded site was relocated, and the site limits were expanded to include the lot in question. Severe erosion was noted on the lake side of the lot. Later that summer, human remains were found exposed within the eroded area. A representative of our elder council was contacted, and he came with us to the site to rebury the remains. He instructed us to remove only those remains that were actually visible. We were not to displace any soil to remove any of the human remains still located within the bank. These remains were reburied on the lot farther inland from the shoreline.

A meeting was held to discuss possible methods to halt the erosion. Because an archaeological site was located on this lot, I was consulted regarding erosion control methods. Would it be possible to plant trees on the lot, or should the bank be shored with large stones? I contacted our elder council for advice. One of our elders said that the shore should be left to erode, as it was a natural process that should not be fought. He said that the spirit of the human remains that were still buried there either wanted to move to the water in order to be near the water spirits or they were on the next step of their journey. He said that if we placed rock on the eroded area it would not stay put, as the spirits in that area would be much more powerful than any stones. He said that it would be dangerous for a heavy equipment operator to drive over this site, as he might be injured or killed because of his actions. His decision was respected, and the site was left alone. Although it was difficult for me to allow the site to erode, I felt that we must heed the traditional knowledge of the elders. There was no alternative once we understood. It was a decision that respected the elders' traditional knowledge.

These examples are specific to our reservation and tribal archaeology program. We understand that it may not be feasible for archaeologists to access traditional knowledge in many settings. However, I strongly encourage communication between archaeologists and Native Americans in a manner that is appropriate and respectful to tribes and amenable to archaeologists.

I read again with interest previous Working Together articles. There is a commonality in approaches between tribal archaeology programs, with a strong reliance on oral histories and a respect for traditional knowledge. After reading these articles I was proud to have been asked to participate in this forum. However, I hope that we do not suggest that archaeologists cannot work with tribes regarding archaeological issues. John Allison's recent submission was somewhat unsettling to me for this reason. Mr. Allison states that "I tend to get a little impatient...reading articles by archaeologists who still don't get `it'," and "There are lots of jokes among tribal people about the ignorant anthropologists asking ridiculous questions and getting ridiculous answers from people who don't trust them" [SAA Bulletin 14(1)]. These types of statements have undoubtedly angered and frightened archaeologists away from the tribal consultation process for years, and I believe they have also hampered the NAGPRA process. If we tell archaeologists that their questions and process are ridiculous, why will they bother to consult with tribes except when they absolutely must? We have to encourage dialogue between the archaeological and tribal communities rather than inflaming both sides.

Archaeologists have to be informed as to what the "rules" are when working with tribal people. On the other hand, they must understand that a lack of trust exists because, in the past, archaeologists have not consulted with Native Americans regarding their projects, and they have not trusted their oral histories when presented as evidence. This has been made clear to me through the NAGPRA process--if we can find a written history documenting cultural affiliation between human remains or sacred objects, this serves as evidence for the proof of cultural affiliation. In the current climate, traditional knowledge simply does not carry the weight that a written history does.

There has to be an outreach from the Native American community as well as from the archaeological community in order to share perspectives. We are all a part of our own culture; my culture places a strong emphasis on scientific research and data. Native American culture places a great emphasis on oral histories and traditional beliefs. Neither is wrong. We must come together and try to understand the other. If we do not, we will be battling the same issues over and over again with bad feelings on both sides. I believe that we can work together because we have the same goals--site protection and a knowledge of past lifeways. Through frank communication, we can work toward those goals.

Rose Kluth is program director for the Leech Lake Heritage Sites Program at Cass Lake, Minnesota.

Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page