Today I was able to take a day off from Hassanamesit Woods field school to attend the annual NAISA (Native American and Indigenous Studies Association) Meetings in Uncasville, CT. I was there to see a round-table discussion organized by Nipmuc Historic Preservation Officer and Archaeologist at UMASS Amherst, Dr. Rae Gould, called, “The State of Archaeology in New England: Indian/Archaeology Interactions and Collaborations”. The panel was composed of many of Southern New England’s well known scholars in Indigenous Archaeology including Stephen Mrozowski, Director of the Fiske Center at UMASS Boston, Kevin McBride of the University of Connecticut, Paul Robinson of Rhode Island College, Holly Herbster of the Public Archaeology Lab, Robert Paynter of UMASS Amherst, James Quinn of the Mohegan Tribal Historic Preservation Office, David Robinson of Fathom Research LLC, and Ramona Peters of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. All in all, it was a very productive discussion; one I was happy to be able to see first hand! I thought since not everyone can make it to these kinds of meetings, that some of you might enjoy reading a little breakdown of the dialog.
The discussion centered around several topics, but seemed to settle on a few key themes (as I saw it):
1) developing and maintaining meaningful, respectful, and collaborative relationships with Native communities: Ramona Peters and several others on the panel and in the audience made it clear that while we have all come a long way since the 1970s, we must do more to acknowledge the tensions and hurdles (economic, political and social) that Indigenous communities face, especially those that continue to go un-recognized in the eyes of local or federal agencies.
2) The need for a politically engaged, scientifically informed, and interdisciplinary approach to Native Archaeology that incorporates both the specificities of local context and an understanding of global signficance.
3) the clash of institutional and Indigenous concepts of time and space. This last topic seemed to generate the most discussion. Several participants expressed a desire to rethink the institutional divisions and classifications that have structured the field of archaeology for the past century, but have proven to be an obstacle to the kind of collaborative scholarship we all work toward. Steve Mrozowski proposed, and many others agreed that classifying the past into “history” and “pre-history” (and other such temporal divisions ie “the late archaic” or “the terminal woodland”) has served only to obscure the continuity and unity of the past as it was experienced, taught and remembered by Native communities in New England, all while privledging the written record over a “deeper” or perhaps, “ancient” history that can be reached through an array of linguistic, archaeological, and oral historical evidence.
This really was a great session and the topics that came up are very relevant to the work we are doing out at Hassanamesit Woods. Thanks to Rae Gould for organizing, and thanks to NAISA and the Mohegan Tribal Nation for hosting!
by Heather Law Pezzarossi