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Working Together --

Cooperative Research
with Reciprocal Benefits:
A Personal History and a Proposal

Roberta L. Hall

Since 1976, when members of the Coquille Indian Tribe (Figure 1) asked for help from the Department of Anthropology at Oregon State University to salvage skeletal remains eroding from a riverbank in their traditional area, we have worked together on projects to enhance knowledge of their past. Arrangements between the tribe and the department are simple and based on trust and mutual respect. Predating state or national legislation concerning the disposition of cultural artifacts and human remains, our project has never found it necessary to involve lawyers or legislators to do our interesting scientific and cultural business. Our conduct of business reflects our views on repatriation.

Figure 1. The Coquille Indian Tribe's home area is Southwestern Oregon, along the Coquille River and nearby sloughs, forests, and prairies.

For more than two decades, we have salvaged and analyzed a number of skeletons and participated in a number of other cultural history projects involving oral histories, archives, geography and natural history, and archaeology. We have developed friendships and working relationships with members of the Coquille Indian Tribe and non-Indian members of the community. We have completed 15 field projects and have had many contacts, exchanging advice on various topics. We have produced two books and many reports and articles, and discussed our findings with various audiences.

The titles of our two books suggest our perspective. The Coquille Indians: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (1984, R. L. Hall, Smith, Smith, and Smith Publishing Co., Lake Oswego, Oregon) assumes the tribe is a long-term but dynamic entity that has a past and a future that differ from the present. People of the Coquille Estuary (1995, R. L. Hall, editor and contributor, Words and Pictures Unlimited, Corvallis, Oregon) covers the health and biology of the Coquille native population as well as the geography, natural history, history of contacts between native and non-native people, archaeological studies near the estuary, and a history and impact of the Euro-American community on the environment. It implies that changes are to be expected in the future as in the past, and assumes that future studies by tribal and nontribal people will result in changed ideas--no one group and no era has a claim on ultimate truth or knowledge. The value lies not only in the project's product but also in the experience of discovering the past by working in a community setting.

Repatriation is a broader topic than any set of legal documents that mandate it. Repatriation often refers to the movement of things from one group's control to another's; but it could refer to control of knowledge about the past. The cooperative model that has worked for us is of sharing knowledge and allowing, indeed encouraging, diverse understandings. Some of our projects have been in direct response to specific tribal needs, while other cultural resource investigations are required by law or by the community. Still others have been exploratory and are driven by a desire to learn more about the prehistory of the region, its environment, or its human biology. We view all local residents and others interested in the conservation of natural and cultural resources, as stake holders in the collective human past with a right to know about that past, even as cultural descendants have a plurality of control over artifacts and human remains from those societies. This model acknowledges special rights with respect to repatriation but acknowledges general human claims to understand the collective human past.

Over the years, I have been both dismayed and puzzled to see some government agencies, museums, and academic archaeologists at odds with various Indian tribes and other organizations. I have occasionally resented the question, "are you observing NAGPRA?" The implication that without such a law, we might not be conducting our research in an open and cooperative way, is offensive.

My resentment toward NAGPRA stems from the implication in its design that working with the history of American Indian cultures--whether skeletal remains or other data are used--is an adversarial process between the members of the anthropological community and American Indian tribes. This may not have been the intention and may not even be in the language --but this is a consequence felt in the day-to-day practice of archaeology. In my view, adversarial relationships are inherently destructive and I would rather promote cooperative ones.

Ours is not a "cookbook" approach, for every situation is different as indeed every personal relationship is unique. What I am stressing here are the feelings and concepts that can lead to successful projects. Flexibility is one of the ingredients for success. Our association with the Coquille Indian Tribe began with salvaging burials and for this we used archaeological methodologies that also were used in cultural resource testing. We adapted our strategies to meet other tribal goals, such as oral history projects that involved, among other tasks, constructing genealogies (Figure 2). We assembled cultural inventories and a history of the tribe in the 20th century (1988, R. L. Hall and T. Grigsby, History, Language, Culture, and Political Characteristics of the Coquille Indians of Oregon. Report to the Coquille Tribe), which assisted the tribe in making a case for restoration. We also addressed general issues of culture history and included topics of health and biology, and used ethnohistory and the history of the Euro-American community. Understanding the environment and both geologic and cultural changes that affected past and present cultures also has received research attention. In salvaging Coquille history in what would appear to be a Euro-American town, we demonstrated archaeological methods to visitors, teaching them about the ancient native culture and the need to respect it. To further public education, three museum displays were assembled.

These Coquille projects have reinforced my perception of anthropology as a multidisciplinary field that thrives on challenges and serves human needs by providing new insights about people. Basing these cooperative projects on the specific needs of the Coquille Indian Tribe and the community of which it is a part and involving diverse groups and disciplines to undertake the study of the past, the projects have been a great success and research benefit to all.

Figure 2. Coquille tribal members and volunteers drawing genealogy charts in a culture history project in 1978.


The following principles are basic but can be applied and adapted to fit project-specific conditions as necessary:

(1) No one has the whole truth. All people can benefit from learning about an area's past from people who have ancestors of that area as well as from others who know and care about the area, such as specialists (e.g., in history, archaeology, human biology, and geology). But nobody has the whole truth; no one group has exclusive knowledge.

(2) Consensus can be developed if all parties willingly cooperate. Decisions about both the immediate and long-term disposition of any human remains and artifacts need to be made with great care and with consultation among the various parties that have concern and knowledge about them. Lawyers and courts need not be involvedand indeed, involvement of the legal system generally tends to occur only when cooperative relationships do not develop, or break down.

(3) Friendships are important; so is trust. In my experience, trust and friendship develop when individuals and groups work together over a period of timewhen there are mutual needs and goals served. These relationships cannot be rushed, but must be forged. Ultimately, the success of one's work depends on whether it is perceived as honest and credible and whether it serves the needs of society. We are a multiethnic society and our work must serve many goals. While the study of the past cultures and peoples is a fascination of anthropologists, it also can help all people of the present. We do not need a monolithic view of the past (or present or future), and we need each other's collaboration; we need as many views as are credible.

What the Future Holds

Our descendants may have other needs and other explanations for the data we collect and analyze, and we need to leave them as much information as possible. But we also must leave them a legacy of good human relations. Without this understanding and compassion, any achievements could easily disappear.

Protection of artifacts and knowledge of the past won't come from a rule book. Repatriation is not synonymous with NAGPRA or any other set of rules or legislation. Repatriation should be inclusive. The only security that we can have concerning knowledge of the past or protection of artifacts that tell about the past is the security that we are working together with genuine respect for each other as well as for the past. Knowledge that is shared is knowledge that endures. ·

Roberta L. Hall is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

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