Native American Cultural Landscapes in the “Cauldron of Colonialism”

Reading the work of Patricia Rubertone during our unit on the archaeology of colonialism, I was intrigued by emerging approaches to the study of Native American communities during the colonial period. Contrary to acculturation studies predicated on the inexorable demise of Native cultures, I was drawn to historical archaeologists’ increasing focus on communities’ negotiation of the colonial period as seen through changes and continuities in their use and view of cultural landscapes.

I wanted to know more. As I soon discovered, the literature on Native American cultural landscapes is incredibly diverse, theoretically, methodologically, and areally. To mention but a few highlights, scholars have examined how landscapes became refuges for fleeing mission neophytes in California, how culturally prescribed burning preserved Native identity in southern Oregon, and how the Narragansett incorporated monuments celebrating their “extinction” into traditional practices.

From these diverse and interesting case studies, I identified three major themes: 1) importance of place, 2) traditional knowledge and resources, and 3) persistence of Native identity. Each theme makes an explicit connection between cultural landscapes past and present and emphasizes the relevance of place to contemporary Native American communities as well as non-Natives. For those exploring the impact of a proposed building project on Native American land, culturally important places must be considered. For those working to solve serious environmental issues, learning from Native communities’ long-term observational and experiential knowledge of their landscapes can help identify new management strategies. For those coming from the position that “real” Native American communities no longer exist due to acculturation, the persistence of Native identity through cultural landscapes provides strong evidence to the contrary.

Study of indigenous cultural landscapes is a globally emergent field. It provides new insight into the enactment and legacy of European colonialism and serves to deconstruct Western nature/culture, place/space dichotomies.

For those of you interested in dipping your toes in this literature, I present my top five works on the study of colonialism and Native American cultural landscapes:

Bernard, Julienne, David Robinson, and Fraser Sturt 2014 Points of Refuge in the South Central California Colonial Hinterlands. In Indigenous Landscapes and Spanish Missions, edited by Lee M. Panich and Tsim Schneider, pp. 154-171. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.

Carlson, Keith Thor 2010 The Power of Place, The Problem of Time: Aboriginal Identity and Historical Consciousness in the Cauldron of Colonialism. University of Toronto Press, Toronto.

Gallivan, Martin, Danielle Moretti-Langholtz, and Buck Woodard 2011 Collaborative Archaeology and Strategic Essentialism: Native Empowerment in Tidewater Virginia. Historical Archaeology, 45(1):10-23.

Tveskov, Mark A. 2007 Social Identity and Culture Change on the Southern Northwest Coast. American Anthropologist, 109(3):431-441.

Whitridge, Peter 2004 Landscapes, Houses, Bodies, Things: “Place” and the Archaeology of Inuit Imaginaries. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 11(2):213-250.

2 thoughts on “Native American Cultural Landscapes in the “Cauldron of Colonialism”

  1. I really appreciated the research you shared, especially regarding social identity and marriage. It definitely helped me to gain a better understanding of the motivations and cultural basis for Native American wives of HBC workers at Fort Nisqually. This understanding of the duality of roles that Native women engaged in really broadened my perspective of gender roles within the trading fort as well as within the family unit, and also helped me to understand the complex interplay of power within these institutions. Thanks for sharing, that was great stuff!!!

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