WAC Sponsored Session
Global Adventures in Decolonisation: decolonizing archaeology
now that everybody thinks of the world as being post-colonial
Convened by Claire Smith, Ken Isaacson and George Nicholas
In recent years, Indigenous critiques of archaeological practice-like the earlier critiques of Marxists and feminists-have set new accents and directions for an archaeological practice that are politically aware of, sensitive to, and harmonious with, the goals of Indigenous peoples. There is a slow but sure movement in archaeology that moves from posturings that pitch 'science' against Indigenous rights to an Indigenous archaeology moves beyond research 'about' Indigenous peoples to focus on research that is conducted with, and for, Indigenous peoples. This moves Indigenous concerns and values from the 'outside' to the 'centre', orienting archaeology towards Indigenous systems of knowledge and power, and involves fundamental challenges to archaeological theory and practice, as well as substantive changes in the power relations between archaeologists and Indigenous peoples.
But do we really live in a 'postcolonial' world? Indeed, how appropriate is the term "postcolonial" to the archaeology we conduct today? While 'post' means 'after' most texts described as postcolonial are simply critiques of colonialism, but do not actually portray an archaeology with a form that is greatly different from that of colonialism. If colonialism has meant living within a framework of control, what kind of shape might a truly postcolonial archaeology take? In our view, it would be a framework in which Indigenous people hold (equal) power and autonomy-but what kind of shape might that take? Core issues include: Who benefits from archaeological research? Do archaeologists have a right to control the pasts of others? Is the Western scientific approach to archaeological theory and method necessarily the 'best' way of interpreting the past? What are the practical ramifications of archaeological research for the Indigenous peoples with whom they work, for whom the 'artefacts' of archaeology are a living heritage? And how can archaeologists transform their theory and practice so that they benefit Indigenous peoples?
Both global alliancing and local action are essential to the promotion of archaeological practices capable of empowering to Indigenous peoples and concerns. This also requires moving far beyond the "working together: stage archaeologists and Indigenous peoples are to shape a shared future. The outcome of a true and equal collaboration between Indigenous peoples and archaeologists will be a clearer definition of shared areas of interest and power. The task ahead is to work together and fashion archaeology so that it is benefits both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of the 21st century.