In preserving the past, communication is key

The first lunchtime workshop of the Preserving the Past seminar series (@preserveseminar) kicked off last Thursday with an overwhelming turnout at wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ (a.k.a. the Intellectual House) on UW’s campus. This workshop, Collaborating on Heritage in the Salish Sea, brought together a panel consisting of tribal members, cultural resource managers, and local/state agency representatives in order to create conversation around the opportunities and challenges of caring for heritage within the Salish Sea.

The biggest theme that emerged from this conversation was the need to foster better communication between tribes and non-native archaeologists. As Chairman of the Suquamish Tribe, Leonard Forsman, admitted, both parties have a history of making assumptions about the goals and interests of the other – a practice that has not led to productive collaboration. Instead, it is imperative that archaeologists consult with tribes when they are engaging in excavation projects. This means going beyond merely complying with the law and filling out required paperwork, but actually speaking with the THPO (tribal historic preservation office) about interests that tribal members may have in the proposed project. As Chairman Forsman said, “We are not an obstacle, we are an asset.” Indeed, tribes operate their own libraries and have access to a wealth of historical documents, both written and oral, which could be of use in archaeological interpretation by illuminating additional voices and lines of evidence. Additionally, there is a lot of value in face-to-face conversation and negotiation as it helps to build trust and foster mutual understanding – and can only lead to better archaeology (and better archaeologists).

By opening up lines of communication, a rich and fruitful collaboration may be possible, as archaeologists educate themselves about local tribes and their histories and tribal members are able to learn about archaeology and recover some material aspects of their heritage.

The next Preserving the Past event will continue this conversation on February 16, 2017 from 12:30-2:30pm in the Smith Room (324) of the Suzzallo-Allen Library. This workshop, entitled Meaningful Collaboration and Indigenous Archaeologies, will feature a keynote delivered by Dr. Chip Colwell, Senior Curator of Anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and founder of SAPIENS.

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