Rapport in Archaeology

I write this having just ate my second dinner for the night, full of salmon – The first salmon harvested by the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde at Willamette Falls in over a hundred years, as they negotiate their hunting and fishing rights with an assortment of government agencies.

As I sat in the plank house, I couldn’t help but feel honored to be a part of a historic moment of healing and restoration. But opportunities such as these aren’t built from nothing. As part of the second year of the University of Washington’s field school, Field Methods in Indigenous Archaeology (FMIA), I am able to benefit from a relationship built over several years between the university, the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO), and members of the Grand Ronde community.

Guided by Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) methods, the FMIA field school developed a research partnership with the THPO and members of the Grand Ronde community that contributes to the capacity of the THPO to care for tribal cultural resources on the Grand Ronde reservation. This partnership is based on the values of respect and reciprocity in order to cultivate a meaningful and lasting relationship between all parties. The viability of our research is assessed based on its potential contributions to everyone involved. While archaeology has a deep rooted colonial and extractive past, the CBPR framework (Atalay, 2012) encourages a long term positive exchange with indigenous communities. Who stands to benefit from our work as archaeologists, and how to involve the community, as well as their perspectives and ways of understanding are critically important.

Although the concept of building rapport in the field is not foreign to anthropology, its important in archaeology is often overlooked. Community-based and indigenous approaches to archaeology illustrate how forming long term, meaningful relationships with and to a community is a critical part of creating a respectful archaeological practice.

At this point, at the end of week five in the FMIA School, we have had opportunities to participate in important cultural practices fostered by the Grand Ronde community. We’ve taken a trip into the woods to harvest maple bark, an important resource for the manufacture of clothing.  The maple bark we were peeling, in this instance was going to be used to make maple bark skirts for the young dancers in the tribe. We learned how to peel the bark from the tree in a single piece, inserting our fingers between the bark and the trunk of the tree, and how to separate the flexible inner bark from he fragile outer bark that is prone to cracking and breaking.IMG_0100

IMG_0096We were also invited to the plank house for the opening ceremonies of the annual veterans powwow. This was our first time in the plank house, and as the tribe sang, danced, and pounded drums, learning how to act appropriately (what songs to stand for, and when to remove my hat) has largely been a crash course in mimicry. We’ve even been provided the opportunity to set up our field camp on the powwow grounds themselves.  These are opportunities grown out of the equitable relationship that the FMIA field school has built with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. Experiencing culture as it is practiced, understanding it as living, gets us away from a reductionist history produced by Western science and archaeology that sees Indigenous cultures as timeless and stuck in the past. We’ve been provided the opportunity to experience Grand Ronde tribal culture as it is today, as a living, changing thing, not the static history of a textbook.

Experiences such as these, in addition to being fun, exciting, and a welcome break from the labors of field work, enlighten our perspectives and make us better archaeologists. Mutually beneficial, long term relationships aren’t just useful, they’re sustainable.

Works Cited

Atalay, Sonya (2012) Community-Based Archaeology: Research with, by, and for Indigenous and Local Communities. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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