Scan your eyes over a standard-issue map of North America, and you will find names of European political leaders, explorers, and places repeated across the Canadian Arctic: Victoria Island, Melville Peninsula, Cambridge Bay. These names offer little acknowledgement of Inuit presence, which extends for millennia across the land, ice, and water today known as the Canadian Arctic. For my final project in Historical Archaeology, I explored community-based research on Inuit place names and how that can help us understand memory, identity, colonialism, and interpretation in the Arctic. Interwoven with place names are the politics of colonialism, the sovereignty of language, and the creation of historical narratives through interpretation.
The most striking result of my research was how colonial legacies continue to influence narratives of history, identity, and indigeneity today. Archaeologists have the ability to use their work to deconstruct colonial systems put in place to disrupt the communication of traditional knowledge––known as Inuit qaujimajatuqangit––and to advance social justice in the Arctic. For academics used to controlling every aspect of research design and execution, sharing authority with communities can be an unsettling. But I would argue that for archaeology to remain relevant in today’s world, the field can no longer hold itself apart and above the people in it.