Tuesday, 25 October 2016




Note: This is the first of three loose parts covering how archaeological or historic sites and collections, both First Nations and Euro-Canadian/ American sites have been bulldozed or become at risk. Also please consider signing the UTGSU Statement in Solidarity with Standing Rock. 

The Dakota Access Pipeline Protests as of today:
President Obama...his Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Justice are apparently researching now the cultural and environmental effects. Well, what the h--- does that matter if the pipeline is already built?”
-Jordan Chariton reporting from the Sacred Stone Camp on Oct. 15, in the aftermath of the end of the temporary halt on construction for part of the land.  
March in front of police with batons Oct 15, 2016: TYT Politics
 The protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline continue as pipeline development continues in the face of risks to water source and the environment, as well as the destruction of Sioux burial grounds without a full environmental impact assessment. Over the past weeks, there have been questions over the mistreatment of protestors/ water protectors, the use of attack dogs, the arrests of journalists Amy Goodman (released) and Deia Schloserg and seizure or obstruction of video recordings

1,281 museum professionals (including 50 museum directors), archaeologists, anthropologists and academics have issued a statement for the US government against the development of the pipeline. The UTGSU is also preparing a statement in solidarity with those protesting.

The temporary halt to development of part of the area by the US government has been lifted and police officers appear to have mostly replaced private security. Calls for halting and legal battles have so far failed to have much effect. As of October 24, it has been reported that over 120 protestors have been arrested and drones used by protestors to monitor DAPL activities have been shot down by police.

Protestor in front of bulldozers, Democracy Now!

Part 1: A Long Running History
The troubles in Standing Rock is an example of the latest in a long standing history of controversies that involves tensions between First Nations, land developers, governments, the media reporting, environmentalists and the cultural heritage sector (archaeologists, historians, museums) in North America. It is not so much a one off as it is a microcosm of a whole multitude of longstanding issues.

There are many aspects to the Standing Rock protests, from the fear of possible contamination of drinking water, to the bulldozing of Sioux burial sites, the destruction of land, the mistreatment of First Nations in the existing system and the arrests of reporters on the ground. However, today, I will focus more on the issues of bulldozing sites of spiritually, historically and archaeologically meaningful sites.

The bulldozing of Sioux burials at Standing Rock is by no means the first time First Nations burials, or more generally, culturally significant heritage sites have been bulldozed or threatened in the face of development. The situation has improved today overall with greater collaboration generally, but there is still a long history of mistakes to account for and will likely continue in the near future.

Pop Culture Consciousness/ Quasi-guilt and Spectacle
In fact, this issue is well-entrenched in the American sub-consciousness to some extent, albeit in a very specific and oddly narrow part of it. The trope of building on “Indian Burial Grounds” exists in American literature and media as an occasionally recurring theme used in American horror that exists as a bizarre combination of underlying tensions between a quasi-acknowledgement of colonial encroachment of First Nations lands, fear of the "other" and a colonial misappropriation of First Nations dead as ghostly antagonists in the western tradition. As TV tropes summarizes, examples can be found in film, comics, literature, television, games and animation.

Famous examples include Poltergeist, the Simpsons, Family Guy, the Hulk, Disneyland, The Shining, The Amityville Horror, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, Friends, Parks and Recreation, South Park, and Rugrats.

A less than flattering summary of American perceptions: Simpsons

And yet, there is a long history running concurrently in real life where burial sites are at risk on a fairly regular basis. The reality of the disturbance or desecration of burial sites for construction that lies behind it exists, but often in short reports scattered about.

A Glimpse of a Timeline 

The disturbance of human burial for land development in North America is by no means rare and often go unnoticed, though many are reported in local news.

-Between 1951-1991, it has been estimated that over 8,000 heritage sites have been destroyed in Halton, Durham, Peel and York. 25% of this is believed to have been culturally significant.

- In 1967, the Peabody coal company leased land from Navajo and Hopi reservations and archaeologists were brought in for the Black Mesa archaeological project. Anthropologist Kelley Hays Gilpin from the University of Northern Arizona has stated that human remains were destroyed by mining machinery. The remains that were excavated were stored at the University of Illinois and University of Nevada. The Guardian reports that the US Army Corps of Engineers found the collections storage at the University of Illinois in the 2000s to be “substandard” and had pest problems. See 2014.

Black Mesa Mine: Sam A Minkler
-In 1992, two houses were constructed by a private developer on reserve territory (established 1857) in Owen Sound where burial sites were located. The Chippewas of Nawash protested for a week until a settlement was reached, where the government removed the houses and the private developer was financially compensated.

-In 2001, at Staines Road in Toronto, the remains of 308 First Nations Remains were found during land development amongst a fill of soil and garbage bearing marks of heavy machinery. No charges were laid after a police investigation and they were reburied in the same location.

-In 2001, West Virginia University attempted to sell a parcel of land to Wal-Mart for development, but upon receiving letters of concern for the disruption of First Nations Burials, Wal-Mart left the sale. In 2003, the university sold it to CMC company that subsequently sold it to Gateway Town Centre for construction. Gateway had the area excavated but remains were handed over to the Seneca in New York instead of the Monongahela. The land itself was originally donated for the university to care for its archaeological record by a private citizen.

-In 2007, approximately 45 Native Hawaiian remains were found during development for a Whole Foods store in Hawaii. Attempts were made to re-designate the site as a cemetery, but appears to have failed

-In 2010, concerns were raised by Huron-Wendat officials when they discovered that an archaeological excavation was done without consultation on Teston Rd. in Vaughn, near a known ossuary that had been discovered and reburied in 2005. No remains appear to have been found, though the outline of a longhouse was discovered. At the time, no application had been submitted for development, though the archaeologist hired to assess the property noted "They didn't want to hold this up. They wanted to go fast. They didn't want to contact the aboriginal groups. That is clear. But I don't want to be the bad guy here. I did what my employer said to do." While the Huron-Wendat wanted the archaeologist to halt and notify them through proper channels, the land owner did not.  

-In 2011, archaeological excavations at the construction site for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights drew controversy and disagreements on the extent of the assessments made. It appears that no burial sites were present, though the First Nations site contained multiple occupations and large concentrations of artifacts. There is perhaps a persistent sense of irony of a national museum for human rights built on such land. This would be one of a number of controversies that the museum would have even up to its opening in 2014.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights Wikimedia Commons
-In 2014, the Peabody coal company sought to extend its mining permit from a lease to a lifetime permit on reserve land.

-In 2014, tensions rose with archaeologists when the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria objected to excavation of a burial and village site under development for luxury homes. Instead, the remains were reburied, but the rest of the site was paved over by the developer in Larkspur California.
-Between 2000 and 2013, 7 assessments were done by 3 different archaeological firms at the Allandale Station lands, a property owned by Metrolinx and slated for development for Go Transit. It was found that as early as 1907, archaeologist Andrew Hunter had known that there had been a large ossuary and a series of smaller ossuaries at this location. Two of these assessments found human remains in the crawlspace of one of the buildings and adjacent to one of the buildings. The latter excavation recovered fragments of human remains partially obscured by cement. Unfortunately, part of the area was bulldozed due to issues with communication that existed throughout this time between parties, including a systemic failure to share prior archaeological assessments by the City of Barrie. News of this only broke after a whistle-blower contacted Archaeological Services Inc and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) has been the only news source to have dedicated much time in investigating this story.
Allandale Station Lands 2011: APTN 
The Role of the Media:
The above list was pieced together from small stories here and there that were often the only reported by a handful of people. The wording and framing of most these articles are also often problematic and invokes stereotypes of old, but they are often the little that is available to the public.  Without adequate reporting, accountability and awareness or public awareness can be scant.

Journalists for Human Rights, a Canadian organization dedicated to promoting and training on reporting overlooked stories, recently released a report, “Buried Voices” that found that first Nations news stories only represented 0.46 of all news stories from 171 Ontario news outlets in in 2013.

How this compares to reporting elsewhere in Canada or the United States is unclear, but it is doubtful that is much more, though the Liberal government's commitment to investigating the disappearance of missing First Nations women and the Standing Rock protests may have changed this somewhat (or become buried by the 2016 election). As such, it is key that the media is involved. However, the arrests of reporters on the scene at Standing Rock and the seizure of film is important to keep in mind.

Democracy Now's! viral report on the ground on the use of dogs by private security

Understanding the Black Box
There is much literature on many of the controversies with how First Nations remains have been treated, but there has been little on issues within the present system to understand how the checks and balances in the system can sometimes fail. Without understanding this, it is difficult to see beyond the black box where a site is bulldozed and everyone seems to be simply unable to do anything about it.

In the second part, I will try to provide some nuances to these topics with a discussion of the limitations found in the present system of managing archaeological sites, a few known strategies that have been used to manipulate the process and a fundamental question I have for museums and public education.

In the third part, I will reiterate some of the points made during our Ignite Session earlier this year on the state of collections today.

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