We were waiting for Scott’s phone to download a video from “Epic Meal Time”, some extreme food show, when a tribal member came over to invite us to the plank house. During this specific week and weekend, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde was holding a Powwow to honor all Veterans. Although the main event would take place during the weekend, there were smaller, more intimate events going on for those who had come to camp out early. And because of this, I was personally shocked to have been invited. A couple of us forgot about Scott and his video (sorry Scott!) and literally jumped up to follow the tribal member to the plank house.
As soon as we entered, the smell of burning cedar greeted us. There was a small gathering of people sitting in the stands with a fire pit centered between them. We sat near the entrance, quietly but excited we all patiently waited for the ceremony to start. Others from our camp came a little after us, they at least got to see Scott’s video. And then, the event began.
We did our best to go along with the event. We stood up when everyone stood up and sat down when they all sat down. We had the chance to hear the history of the building, staring in awe at the size of the cedar pillars. They told creation and traditional stories throughout the event. We participated in a dance called the Heron dance. We would jog around the building and when a certain beat was made we had to stop immediately, go side to side, forward and when we leaned back we threw our hands in the air and shouted “Hey!”. I found it fun but also educationally and personally important that we went.
Field Methods in Indigenous Archaeology is a community-based project, meaning that we have been working side by side on an equal pedestal with the help of community members. Although we are excavating the schoolhouse with the CTGR’s permission, we have been working closely only with a handful of tribal members. Attending this event gave us the opportunity to interact with different members, members who maybe weren’t so keen on outsiders coming, members who are hesitate about trusting archaeologists.
Often times, as school-oriented students, it can be easy to place history in an unreachable distance, making it harder to grasp the reality of it. For me, I can read all about archaeology and the methods and tools that come with it, but it’s a completely different experience when I go out into the field and put them in practice. And it was the same with learning about the history of the CTGR. It’s hard to actually understand a culture until you can interact with it. Words can only do so much and can only paint a mental image so detailed. Seeing it person, for me, was a reality check. I was reminded of them not completely trusting us as archaeologists, as one elder put it, he’s “watching us”. When he spoke these words, I could feel the long and deep distrust Native Americans have towards archaeology. It was a reminder that the people whose presence we were in are descendants of the ones who went to the school house. This added to the amount of pressure on us. But also a served to remind us that what we are doing, working with the Tribal Historic Preservation Office, is a great honor. And it is important to be respectful.