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 Indeed, tribes operate their own libraries and have access to a wealth of historical documents, both written and oral, which could be of use in archaeological interpretation by illuminating additional voices and lines of evidence.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.

A word on Preserving the Past Together Seminar

On a cold but sunny Thursday afternoon, I sat upon a wood bench within a beautiful wooden conference space at the Intellectual House on the campus of UW. That afternoon there was the Preserving the Past Together seminar. This work shop focused on the collaboration of heritage in the Salish Sea. As the panelists discussed various topics of collaboration, my thoughts and notes centered on two ideas that came up. One was the hesitance felt by many native communities and elders in sharing key knowledge about certain sites. The second involved the simple yet largely overlooked idea of coming to the archives, the teachers, and the elders of native communities when looking for information. These two topics can come at odds when researchers, developers, and politicians finally come looking for information but are stopped by communities that do not wish to share their knowledge. As said by a member of the panel, “how do you protect something you can’t talk about?” These ideas stuck in my mind as I contemplated the two sides to the topic. But as the panelists continued it became clear that no matter what work that goes on between the tribes and the State, etc. there needs to be mutual understanding and respect for one another if cooperation and collaboration are to happen. In an expanding world, certain knowledge needs to be shared in order to keep avoidable destruction from happening, but we must also stop assuming what we know and spend time and share knowledge with the tribes themselves.

The seminar will continue with three more workshops targeted at working together to keep the past. The next one will be held, February 16, 2017   12:30-2:30pm I look forward to what comes from this as well as the rest of the workshops.