Tuesday, 29 November 2016



Note: The DAPL protests also covers environmental and water safety concerns, but I have focused on the heritage aspect below only.
Elderly woman arrested holding a prayer stick on Oct. 27: Source: Indian Country Today

Part A: Dakota Access Pipeline Update: 
  • - The United Nations and Amnesty International have both sent human rights observers to North Dakota to monitor the situation.
  • Over 500 protestors have been arrested. Many were injured or suffered from hypothermia, after a barrage of rubber bullets, concussion grenades, water cannons and tear gas. One of them includes Sophia Wilansky, who may lose her arm after a concussion grenade was shot directly at her.  
Protestor injured by rubber bullets and water cannons Source: TYT            
Tear Gas canisters fired. Source TYT 
  • - New drones have secured footage of the the DAPl activities, including indications that construction has been closer to the water than was thought. A drill platform has been set up, despite the fact that this is beyond the permit Army Corps of Engineers.

Drone footage showing the construction of the drill pad and proximity to water: Source: Dean Deadman via TYT
  • - President Obama has not attempted to stop construction activities for further investigation but has stated that he would prefer to “let it play out” in an interview in November. President -elect Trump owned Energy Transfer Partners' stock shares, but sold them over the summer.
  • - Most major news networks have not sent reporters or journalists on the ground to cover this story. In light of the recent concerns of false news reports in the elections, this has only clouded the facts on the topic.
  • -The Army Corps of Engineers has issued two requests to Energy Transfer Partners to halt for 30 days to no avail.
  • - The Army Corps of Engineers plans to force the closure of one of the protestors' camps on December 5 , though they have outlined a “free speech zone”.
  • - Water protectors intend to hold out through the winter.

Part B: Hierarchies of Power: 

Still of two women just before they are dragged and arrested in front of advancing police line: Source

1. The Myth of “Stakeholder” Equality?

A First Nations archaeologist once told a class back in my undergraduate years that he couldn't help but scoff on reflex when he saw a list of stakeholders for a project. For him, the notion of being viewed as or called just another “stakeholder” in a list of profiteers was absurd. It was his past that was on the line. The whole way of “balancing” stakeholders as if they were equal was a lie, he thought. The potential for loss was different and the gaps in power and voice were immense. “Balancing” stakeholders assumed an equality where there was none and depended on one party playing the part of the fair mediators. The truth is it is only an attempt at equality in a mess of hierarchies whether it's people or priorities. So a lot of it is fragmented and difficult to tease out. Give me another 8 or 20 years and I might be wiser, but in lieu of that, here are some starting points to understand the black box.

2. Developers, Energy Companies, Land Owners are the Drivers: 

Developers are the primary driver of archaeological and environmental assessments, and the reason why most archaeology in North America is salvage archaeology. 

In the present system, they ultimately have the most leverage, and it is in many ways, in their control. They pay for assessments and therefore, would prefer to have it done quickly and continue development. It is entirely contingent on the individual developers as to whether they understand or are interested in making sure that archaeological sites or more importantly, burials are respected and whether they would like to adhere to the law and their ethical guidelines or manipulate loopholes to save costs.

Many clients do follow the proper process, but preventing or prosecuting malfeasance is difficult. The reasons are quite simple. The powers that be who can step in are often slow to action, hesitant to hold parties accountable or do not hold much priority as they do not view the consequences to be important. Those who cannot can only petition or protest. Even in cases where wrongdoing is identified or legislation is passed, existing penalties may not be a sufficient deterrent if penalties are deemed is less costly. 

With that being said, it should be acknowledged that smaller homeowners may also find themselves footing the bill for archaeological assessments for basement renovations, an issue that has a different context and power gap. 

Drone footage showing work into the night and the arrival of the drill: Source TYT

3. Mechanics of Destruction:

Two general strategies are taken in cases of malfeasance: 

Fait accompli is the strategy taken where an area is bulldozed and developers or owners state that they either did not know about it or it was already done due to miscommunication. Since it was already done and intent cannot be proven, construction activities must go ahead.The DAPL project began with shades of this, though the clear antagonism displayed may defeat any feigned ignorance.

Demolition by neglect on the other hand, applies more to historic and built Euro-Canadian/ American heritage where land owners choose to let buildings fall beyond repair so that demolition is a necessity due to safety concerns.Toronto has had discussion on these topics frequently enough

In all cases, it is difficult to assess intent.

4.The Government Scattered: 

Senator Bernie Sanders speaking to a crowd of protestors outside the White House: Source

The government holds the greatest power theoretically. However, the present system is rarely able to respond very quickly when serious problems arise. Speed is essential to assessing and protecting lands, but the system(s) in place in North America is often severely underfunded and has little in place to ensure accountability against those who take advantage of its weaknesses.

As with all the groups here, it is not one monolith , but small hierarchies within a hierarchy. Police are often unfamiliar with investigating this topic and often do not prioritize it. Lawmakers do not view First Nations as a priority and often decisions are made by local governments without awareness of the issues. Cultural heritage professionals in the government must fight for funding and recognition within a larger structure that has different goals. Not all jurisdictions mandate archaeological assessments by law, though we do in Ontario. 

Concerns of how the Army Corps of Engineers managed the DAPL permits were raised as early as Oct. 18th and the internal conflict with its goals of economic development in this case have been brought up.

5. Salvage Archaeology is the Predominant Model: 

Archaeology in North America is by and large done as salvage projects, either by private Cultural Resource Management (CRM) firms, teams within a larger organization (mining, oil companies or engineering firms) or government archaeologists.

CRM Archaeologists in North America are often the first and last line of defence. This is neither praise nor critique, but an unenvious responsibility. This is because they are often the only ones in the system who regularly assess properties, make recommendations to clients, contact First Nations, analyze and report findings, and disseminate information within reasonable time and preserving privacy (i.e. protecting site location). All of this is done under time and pressure. Contracts may also be underbid to less qualified firms.
An Army Corps of Engineers sponsored poster from 2002: Christopher Wai

If archaeologists cannot find the information necessary for accurate assessment the system fails. Within an organization (i.e. engineering firm or government) that holds other interests, their voice is muted and subject to their employers. If they are independent firms, they may have to preserve relationships for future contracts.

Archaeologists must make tough decisions- most firms cannot save every site, though they attempt mitigation (i.e. recommend building around specific areas) as a primary strategy and excavation or relocation as secondary fail-safe to protect the record. Unfortunately, most archaeologists are not First Nations and may be unaware of certain issues or, under pressure, some archaeologists may make problematic decisions 
Drone footage: Closer view of drill pad: Dean Deadman via TYT
6. First Nations Archaeologists are Under-represented and Must View,"The Other from Within":

Kennewick Man has only begun to be repatriated after a DNA analysis in 2015 (and not the previous use of outdated and racist classifications of “Mongoloid”/“Caucasoid”/ “Negroid” features).

One of, if not the largest Canadian repatriation projects that reburied 1760 individuals from University of Toronto and Ontario Heritage Trust collections at the Thonnakona Ossuary was completed just three years ago in 2013.

So, first and foremost, becoming an archaeologist for Indigenous peoples is not the most understandable nor comfortable thing to do. Anthropology (or Museum Studies) students who say that they are (metaphorically) "beat over the head with" the history of colonialism can only do so because they are so distanced from it. At the core of it is what Whitney Battle-Baptiste once described about her own experiences as a black female archaeologist as (adapting from Michelle Wright's concept): to see “the other from within”- to be a part of the system as a member of those who have been “othered” by the same system.

It means having to stare at the long history of archaeologists and anthropologists measuring skulls, cataloguing artifacts and being labelled assorted things for the pursuit of eugenics, colonialist justification or a mangled form of “Enlightenment ideals”. It does not go away, but hangs as a spectre.

To paraphrase the same guest lecturer and another who felt the same way, he felt he had to compare it all and decide to somehow make sense of it and justify how he could reconcile being First Nations and being an archaeologist; how they will be different and how they can explain it to families and friends.

Whereas the demographics of archaeologists in most of the world are now largely descendants of the people that they study as opposed to the earlier colonials and have agency over their own heritage, this is not so in North America. This being said, many countries will also have local labourers who do not hold the same status and their own issues with local communities and urbanization.

In North America (and somewhat similarly, in Australia and The U.K.) however, there is a different power dynamic. At all levels, all members on an excavation are expected to have BAs at the minimum to be field technicians. Field techs serve as the predominant labour here and are primarily seasonal with high rates of turnover. Higher levels requires degrees beyond the bachelor's level and sufficient time spent in this unstable job environment. 

In Ontario, advancement requires either a BA and enough experience for a research license and a full professional license requires an MA. Each level grants the authority to manage or direct projects. First Nations archaeologists are few and far between with Brandi George as the only one holding a full professional license and who runs her own archaeological firm. A separate system of First Nations monitors has become more common as an attempt to rectify things, but monitors often do not have the same privileges in the existing system as fully licensed First Nations Archaeologists and may have to negotiate separately with clients.

7. Indigenous Peoples of North America Face Many Issues

A friend of mine gave me a stark reminder when I naively asked her why her grandparents never voted on a drive back to the city just the other day. 

First Nations in Canada only had the right to vote a little over 50 years ago. Prior to that (1867-1960), the only way would be to give up their status and treaty rights or in other words, to be forced to assimilate. Something to think about as we move into Canada's 150th.

In the US, all Indigenous peoples were granted citizenship in 1924, but voting rights were under the jurisdiction of individual states and many could not vote until 1957.

Voting rights for Indigenous peoples in the US and Canada are recent and politicians have rarely ever treated them as people to hear or to engage with. For Indigenous communities in North America, the bulldozing of their ancestors is one of a long line of issues to contend with while having very little visibility in public dialogues or in positions of power in the government, along with the scars of treaties broken, the traumas of residential schools, environmental concerns, assimilation and disappearance of identity in their own ancestral home (unlike immigrant groups that still have an ancestral country elsewhere), housing, incarceration, or missing women.

Next: Where do Museums and Publics stand? 

In the next and final part, I will continue on to some of the issues of silence in media, the public and museums, especially in the context of the curation crisis that exists and the legwork that will need to be done in the future to recover what is being lost. 

In the meantime, protestors/ water protectors prepare for the winter.

For more discussion, Chip Colwell, Curator of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and Lecturer at the University of Colorado, Denver, and Rosalyn LaPier, Visiting Professor at Harvard, have also discussed similar issues with a focus on defining sacred sites.

Water protectors building structures for winter Source: TYT

Correction: It has started snowing.

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