Sunday, December 30, 2007

Indigenous People, Cultural Heritage, and Rights: Archaeology in Mexico

Indigenous peoples face a multitude of obstacles around the world - one of which is their rights concerning cultural heritage. In the US, there are numerous laws relating to the collection, excavation, and recovery of cultural heritage and archaeological artifacts (i.e., NAGPRA). Over the years, indigenous peoples of North America - Native Americans, First Nation peoples, and Native Alaskan and Hawaiian peoples - have gained access and rights concerning their cultural heritage. This is not the case in other countries.

In Mexico, the rights of indigenous peoples are not nearly as great, and they have little or no say over their cultural heritage. Mexican law is largely derived from Roman law, as reinterpreted by Spanish medieval law. In accordance with this, ownership of land is very different than in the US or other countries. The owner of the plot of land only owns the surface itself; whatever is under the surface is the property of the State. As such, almost all aspects of cultural heritage - palaeontological, archaeological, and historical patrimony - is owned by the federal government. The primary law in Mexico dictating this is the Federal Law on the Archaeological, Artistic, and Historic Monuments and Zones, which was implemented in 1972.

The Mexican federal arm that is responsible for managing the 34,789 known sites - and hypothesized 100,000+ sites - is the National Institute for Anthropology and History (INAH). Composed of four patrimonial councils - paleontology, archaeology, conservation, and historical monuments - the INAH oversees all archaeological and cultural heritage management in Mexico. The specific rules applied to archaeological research projects in Mexico are contained in the Disposiciones Reglamentarias para la Investigacion Arqueologica en Mexico (A copy can be obtained free of charge from the Consejo de Arqueologia, Moneda 16, Col. Centro, 06060 Mexico, D.F. Mexico (consejo.arqueologia@inah.gob.mx).

As a result of this system of cultural heritage management, indigenous peoples of Mexico have little or no say in the management of their own history. Because archaeological artifacts and other cultural patrimony - even human remains - are the property of the State, the indigenous peoples of Mexico are being denied a role in their past, present, and future. Even though they are the acknowledge living descendants of the magnificent temples, buildings, sites, and cultural patrimony of Mexico, today's indigenous peoples - Maya, Nahuatl, Zapotec, Mixtec, Otomi, etc. - are not able to participate in the management of their own heritage.

Another component is that exacerbating this picture is that most archaeological projects carried out in Mexico today do not involve the local communities and indigenous groups who may have a connection to the site being excavated. As Nelly M. Robles Garcia noted in the SAA Archaeological Record (Vol. 7, #5, 2007), "However, the current tendency of projects submitted to the Council of Archaeology, whether by Mexicans or foreigners, is to virtually ignore that social context, treating sites as if they exist in a vacuum abstracted from any social reality. Only a few archaeologists live by choice in the communities where the archaeological sites are located. The majority of us prefer to spend the nights in more urban environments, where better services are available. With this preference for comfort we lose opportunities for a basic understanding of the peoples and cultures around us, and deny ourselves the chance to participate in richer anthropological experiences" (p. 30).

The indigenous peoples of the US have fought for many years to gain just basic rights when it comes to participating in the collection, management, and decipherment of their own cultural patrimony. This same fight now needs to be carried out in other countries. The indigenous peoples of the world should have a direct role in the management of each countries heritage - without them there would be little heritage to manage. Archaeologists, politicians, and others need to recognize this and include the local indigenous peoples in decisions regarding management of cultural heritage. If we do, not only will our understanding of the archaeological material be enriched, but so will the country's cultural heritage.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Indigenous Peoples, Climate Change, and Anthropology

Last month I was in Washington D.C. for the annual American Anthropological Association meetings. As usual, there was a wide array of panels on a variety of topics – ranging from traditional theoretical discussions of kinship to panels organized around critical need topics such as climate change. In fact, climate change was a hot topic in a lot of panels and in many of the books on display in the exhibition room. One panel that I got to attend specifically examined the current impacts climate change is having on indigenous peoples. Titled “Witnessing, Communicating, Acting: Substantiating Anthropology’s Role in Confronting Global Climate Change,” the multi participant panel offered numerous insights into how current climate changes are effecting indigenous populations around the world.


One of the common assumptions is that climate change is really only having an impact on indigenous populations in the far latitudes (i.e., the Arctic, Patagonia, and islands in the southern Pacific Ocean). However, as several panelists discussed, this is just not the case. Joan P. Mencher discussed “Politics, Drought, and Other Obstacles to the Survival of Small Farmers in South India” while Wendy Weisman and Bonnie McCay talked about “Remembering and Forgetting El Nino: Interpreting Narratives of Short-Term Climate Change and its Effects on Fisheries of the West Coast of Central Baja California, Mexico.” What these and other panelists pointed out through solid data was that climate change is having an impact on indigenous peoples in all areas, geographic regions, and ecozones.


The indigenous Aymaran Native peoples of the Andes are experiencing changes to their mountain ecologies as a result of changing climate and weather patterns. Likewise, the Uralic and Turkic indigenous peoples are facing major changes as the permafrost melts and their reindeer herds get bogged down. For the indigenous peoples of the world – already marginalized by imperial and colonial situations – global climate changes brought on largely by activities that they have no part in are already having major consequences.


However, not all is to despair. There are many social scientists, activists, and others working to help give indigenous peoples a voice in climate discussions, in environmental management plans, and in political and developmental activities. Gregory V. Button talked about “Creating Sustainability in Gulf Coastal Communities” while Susan A. Crate discussed “Climate Change and Human Rights: Making the Case for Viliui Sakha of Northeastern Siberia.”


All in all, this panel and many others at the American Anthropological Association meetings demonstrated that anthropology is no longer solely an ivory tower academic discipline. Rather, it is applied, action oriented, and involved. Rather then working on subjects that involved indigenous peoples (often as research subjects), anthropology and social science in general is now working with indigenous peoples in collaborative and on mutually beneficial projects. Because climate change is such a key issue in the health of not only indigenous peoples, but the earth herself, it was great to see other like minded social scientists and indigenous peoples. Through collaboration and cooperation, we can mitigate climate change’s impacts on indigenous peoples while at the same time helping to clear up our own environment – Mother Earth.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Category of Indigenous Peoples

Our understanding of indigenous peoples as consisting of separate groups of people each with their own unique "culture" can largely be traced back to the 18th century. Although many Enlightenment writers played a part in defining "culture" and "cultures" as distinct peoples, it is possible to turn to Herder and his philosophy about human differences that was the start of our present-day understanding of indigenous peoples (I've talked about this on several other posts, as well as my friend Victor over on Music 000001).

Consider the following passage from his Yet Another Philosophy of History (1774):

"How much depth there is in the character of a single people, which, no matter how often observed (and gazed at with curiosity and wonder), nevertheless escapes the word which attempts to capture it, and, even with the word to catch it, is seldom so recognizable as to be universally understood and felt. If this is so, what happens when one tries to master an entire ocean of peoples, times, cultures, countries, with one glance, one sentiment, by means of one single word! Words, pale shadow-play! An entire living picture of ways of life, or habits, wants, characteristics of land and sky, must be added, or provided in advance; one must start by feeling sympathy with a nation if one is to feel a single one of its inclinations or acts, or all of them together." [Herder in Berlin 1776: 188]

Here we can begin to see the development of our present-day understanding of "culture" and "cultures." First, there is the interchangeability of words like "people," "culture," and above all "nation" in his writing. Second, there is his celebration of the irreducible plurality of human societies: we cannot and should not judge members of one people or culture by the standards of another, nor should we require people of one culture to adapt to the demands of another alien culture. This emphasis on the need for internal cultural purity, or integrity, in any human group provided Herder with the fuel for fierce denunciations of European rule of non-European peoples (i.e., imperialism), and provided the basis for our formation of the concept of "cultures."

The link between Herder's early pluralistic vision and our modern understanding of this concept is provided by Franz Boas, who was by education steeped in the German tradition of which Herder was a part, and who in his own work accommodated himself to the emerging empirical requirements of Euroamerican anthropology. Boas was alone among American social scientists of his generation in his references to "cultures" rather than "culture," even if his usage was neither systematic nor consistent.

Boas emphasized contingency in both the choice of components within a culture, as well as that these components are brought together in a specific way according to the "genius of the people." In other words cultures need to be seen as wholes, each with its distinctive genius, as well as assemblages of apparently random elements, each with its different history.

It is here that we find the foundations for our present-day understanding of indigenous peoples and their culture. The category "indigenous peoples" is the result of "assemblages of apparently random elements, each with its different history," as well as our process of describing "wholes." That is, today's understanding of indigenous peoples is largely a construct built on the idiosyncratic histories of people, time, and space.

There are several important points that need to be emphasized in this discussion. One is that culture, like multiculturalism, was - and still is by many - a key term in what the philosopher Charles Taylor called the "politics of recognition," and what others called the "politics of identity": that kind of politics based on arguments for the recognition of particular categories (African Americans, women, gays and lesbians, etc.) in Euroamerican society. Much of these arguments concern who, if anyone, has the "right" to represent another culture. Social scientists have been especially vulnerable given the discipline's long involvement with colonialism, and the arguments which linked academic representation of non-Euroamerican peoples to Euroamerican political domination of those people. This blog hopefully is a step in the direction away from such representations and processes.

The other important point, however, is that because indigenous peoples (the category, not the individuals themselves) are largely a modern construction based on Euroamerican values and norms, they are often not given the respect and recognition deserved. As Herder and Boas both noted, irregardless of the historical processes that resulted in the category of indigenous peoples, it is our responsibility to recognize that there are distinct groups of people, and that these groups need to be given equal voice and rights. We cannot judge members of one people or culture by the standards of another, nor should we require people of one culture to adapt to the demands of another alien culture.

Indigenous peoples exist, they have a history, and they should also have a future.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to Change

Native Americans, anthropologists, and others have been working for over thirty years in an effort to repatriate skeletons that are lying around in museums all over the country. This process, which finally became law in 1990 (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act [NAGPRA]), has helped to repatriate countless human remains, sacred objects, and other cultural patrimony to Native Americans where cultural affiliation can be shown. Not all cases have been good - the Kennewick Man is perhaps the best known - and museum officials and archaeologists have been working to change how NAGPRA is worded so that they may keep what they view as invaluable scientific artifacts. Well, as a result there are currently two bills being pushed forward in an effort to change NAGPRA. My colleague Darby Stapp has written an excellent piece that to my mind explains much behind these two bills.

Change to Native American Burial Law Coming by Darby Stapp

The Kennewick Man, a.k.a. the Ancient One, lives on. As a result of Magistrate Jelderks’ interpretation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) in his 2004 Ninth Circuit Kennewick man ruling, politicians are seeking to clear up the confusion by proposing two opposing amendments to the 1990 law.

One proposal was sponsored by Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. The two-word change it proposes would make it easier for Native Americans to obtain the bones of their ancestors and make it harder for scientists to use those bones for scientific study.

The second proposal is from Congressman Doc Hastings (R-Washington) and opposes the McCain Amendment. The Hastings’ amendment proposes adding words to make scientific studier easier and the return of any human remains more than a few hundred years old more difficult.

As one who has worked with human remains through the pre- and post-NAGPRA years, and who experienced the Kennewick Man ordeal, I offer my opinion.

The McCain amendment would change the definition of “Native American” from a group that “is indigenous to North America” to a group that “is or was indigenous to North America.” With the Committee’s change, the law would recognize that cultures change over time and that direct descendants of an ancient skeleton can look far different from those of their ancestors. For example, although the Cascade peoples of 9300 years ago do not exist as Cascade peoples today, their descendants, the Native Americans who live here today, could be culturally affiliated to the 9300-year-old Kennewick Man.

In general, proponents of returning human remains to Native Americans take a broad interpretation of the law, believing that a present-day Native American group should not have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they are “culturally affiliated” to skeletons unearthed in the past, present, or future. The result: more ancestral remains can be returned to tribes and handled in a manner compatible with the group’s beliefs.

This interpretation of NAGPRA is consistent with our anthropological understanding of Mid-Columbia prehistory. It is believed by many Pacific Northwest anthropologists that the Cascade peoples of 9300 years ago are the ancestors of today’s Columbia River tribes. That does not mean that groups did not move in and out of the region over the millennia, or that major changes in economy and social life did not occur. It does mean that there is some connection, and that as a result of that connection, under this interpretation of NAGPRA, today’s Indian people are the ones to determine the disposition of the remains.

The opposing Hastings Amendment states up front that the intent of NAGPRA was to return human remains mainly from the 19th century that were collected by the military. Supporting materials states that the intent of NAGPRA was never to include “ancient” remains. Congressman Hastings and others who support scientific testing of human remains believe that skeletons not directly associated with an existing Native American group should be retained and stored as scientific specimens and made available for current and future scientific testing.

From an anthropological perspective, there is no basis for restricting cultural affiliation to the last few hundred years. The Mid-Columbia tribes have direct ties to people in the region for at least the last 2000 years, probable ties for the last 4000 years, and arguable ties for the last 9500 years. Many dispute that that the intent of Congress was only to repatriate recent remains.

The Hastings Amendment would make it more difficult for Native Americans to obtain the remains for their ancestors, would increase the analytic costs, and would increase the long-term storage costs. The U.S. Government would once again be in the skeleton collection business.

I say this because anytime human remains are discovered, they will need to be subjected to complex analyses by anthropologists to determine first if the remains are Native American, and second if there is cultural affiliation using the high bar of proof.

I don’t know how much the National Park Service paid for it Kennewick Man cultural affiliation studies (www.cr.nps.gov), but it was at least several hundred thousand dollars. Despite detailed studies, which took more than a year to complete, the results were inconclusive. Such is the nature of archaeology.

As one who works in a government setting, this is what I fear will happen. Because government budgets are tight, any new remains discovered will be placed in storage until funding is obtained, which can take years, and may never arrive. Because the standards of proof will be high, many of those remains will determined to be non-Native American. Others may be identified as Native American, but not culturally affiliated with any present-day groups. Off to storage they go.

I did not participate in the pre-NAGPRA debates of the 1980s, so I do not know what Congress intended. But I do know that NAGPRA has done a lot of good since its passage in 1990. As I stand here today with the benefit of hindsight and an understanding of how the government works, I have to believe that it is the Indian Affairs Committee Amendment that will move the Country in the right direction. I do not find any anthropological basis for the Hastings Amendment and see it more as a step backward than a step forward.

**************************************************
I agree with my colleague Darby on all of his points. I'd just like to add one further. I also believe this is a step backward for science, for we are losing a voice in our understanding of the world. Science is an epistemology - a method and way of knowing. Any good epistemology should be open to exploring new methods or ways of knowing if it is to remain objective, dynamic, and living. Science claims to be just such an epistemology. However, by excluding indigenous peoples views (in this case Native American's), science is limiting its understanding, objectivity, and empirical grounding. Not the best of methodological approaches if you ask me.

Scientists, Native Americans, and others can all work together. Science can progress, our understanding of the early history of North American can be deepened, and Native Americans and their ancestors can be honored. It is up to the incoming generation to demonstrate how this plurality of views can be accomplished.

Want to hear what the NAGPRA Review Committee decides? Listen in, make a difference!

Teleconference, January 8, 2008

The teleconference will be on Tuesday, January 8, 2008 from 2:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, unless business is finished earlier.

The teleconference provides the Review Committee with an opportunity to comment on the proposed rule regarding the disposition of culturally unidentifiable human remains [43 CFR 10.11]. A copy of the proposed rule is available at: http://www.nps.gov/history/nagpra/

Members of the public who wish to listen to the teleconference may obtain the call-in number by sending an e-mail to nagpra_info@nps.gov, with “January 8th teleconference” in the subject line, and your full name and organizational affiliation in the body of the e-mail. Registration for the teleconference closes at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Friday, January 4, 2008.

Interested members of the public may submit comments on the proposed rule through January 14, 2008, identified by the number RIN 1024-AD68, by any of the following methods:

-- Federal rulemaking portal: http://www.regulations.gov Follow the instructions for submitting comments.

-- Mail to: Dr. Sherry Hutt, Manager, National NAGPRA Program, National Park Service, Docket No. 1024-AC84, 1201 Eye Street, NW (2253), Washington, DC 20005.

-- Hand deliver to: Dr. Sherry Hutt, 1201 Eye Street, NW, 8th floor, Washington, DC.

Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment -- including your personal identifying information -- may be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

For updated email information, please contact Lesa Koscielski at NAGPRA@rap.midco.net.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Conference in San Diego Looks at Intersection of Indigenous, Ethnic, and Postcolonial Studies

I received this Call for Papers from fellow indigenous issues supporter Michael Lujan Bevacqua. Even if you can't submit a paper, the conference is open for anyone to attend. All those who are interested in indigenous issues and reside in southern California, this is a great opportunity to see what is going on in our institutions of higher learning and to find out more about how you can help indigenous peoples.


CALL FOR PAPERS

"POSTCOLONIAL" FUTURES IN A NOT-YET POSTCOLONIAL WORLD:
Locating the Intersections of Ethnic, Indigenous, and Postcolonial Studies

March 5-7, 2008
Ethnic Studies Department
University of California, San Diego

In September 2007, after twenty years of debate, the United Nations finally passed the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [article can be found here] – a huge symbolic victory for indigenous peoples around the world who struggle under predatory and exploitative relationships with(in) existing nation-states. At the same moment, the UN was lumbering along in the 18th year of its impossible attempts to eradicate colonialism, with groups from around the world flocking to it to petition for the decolonization of their territories or to demand that their situations at least be recognized as "colonial."

Across all continents, indigenous and stateless peoples are struggling for and demanding various forms of sovereignty, as the recently decolonized world is sobering up from the learning of its limits and pratfalls. Postcolonial societies that were born of sometimes radical anti-colonial spirits, now appear to be taking on the role of the colonizer, often against the indigenous peoples that reside within their borders. In places such as Central and Latin America, a resurgence of Third World Leftist politics is being accompanied by a resurgence of indigenous populism. Meanwhile the recent arrests of sovereignty/environmental activists in New Zealand represents another instance where those from the 3rd and 4th worlds who dare to challenge the current make up of today's "postcolonial world" are branded as terrorists.

As scholars involved in critical ethnic studies engage with these ever more complex worlds, they are increasingly resorting to the lenses provided by postcolonial and indigenous studies. This engagement however is not without its limits or problems. As ethnic studies scholars seek to make their vision and scholarship more transnational and global, this push is nonetheless accompanied by gestures that, at the expense of indigenous and postcolonial frameworks, re-center the United States and reaffirm the solvency of its nation-state. In addition, despite their various commonalities, indigenous and postcolonial studies represent intellectual bodies of knowledge that are fundamentally divided over issues such as hybridity, sovereignty, nation, citizenship and subjectivity.

The purpose of this conference, then, is to create a space where scholars and activists engaged in these various projects, in various forms, can congregate to share ideas, hash out differences and move beyond caricatured understandings of each of these intellectual projects. It seeks to ask how, by putting ethnic, indigenous and postcolonial studies in conversation with each other, we may theorize new epistemologies that may better address the violences and injustices of the contemporary world.

To this end we solicit papers that address questions including, but in no way limited to, the following:

- What are the epistemological frameworks that inform postcolonial, ethnic and indigenous studies? What is their relationship to modernity and how do they challenge and/or complement each other?

- What constitutes the subject of postcolonial and ethnic studies? How does the construction of these subjectivities limit possible conversations with indigenous studies?

- What are the limitations and pitfalls of sovereignty as popularly envisioned? How do postcolonial and indigenous communities reaffirm or rearticulate sovereignty within their respective contexts?

- What are the different theories and strategies of decolonization as laid out by postcolonial and indigenous studies, and how do they inform each other?

- How does the political status of indigenous peoples complicate dominant discourses on immigration and citizenship? Moreover, with regards to settler nation-states such as the U.S., how does the "nations-within-nations" status of indigenous communities complicate the project of ethnic and transnational studies?

Abstracts must be submitted to: futures0308@gmail.com

Requirements:
250-word abstract, specifying if the proposal is for individual or roundtable presentations.
Information including name, institutional affiliation, mailing address, telephone number, e-mail address.

Deadline for Submission: January 7th, 2008

For more information please contact: Michael Lujan Bevacqua at mlbasquiat@hotmail.com or Rashné Limki at rashne.limki@gmail.com


Website: http://futures0308.blogspot.com

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Legal Status of Native American Tribes: An Example for Other Indigenous Peoples

The question of sovereign immunity is centered upon how to define and how to implement tribal sovereignty vis-à-vis federal and state sovereignties. Are Native American tribes, as sovereign governments, immune to certain kinds of legal prosecution? Often this issue arises in the struggle over Native American tribal sovereign immunity such as tribal-state relations and the status of non-natives who reside or do business on reservations. However, what if the Native American tribe is not federally recognized? Historically, Native American tribes have been granted federal recognition through treaties, by the Congress, or through administrative decisions within the executive branch. In 1978, the Bureau of Indian Affairs established a regulatory process for recognizing tribes. The current process for federal recognition, found in 25 C.F.R. 83, is a rigorous process requiring the petitioning tribe to satisfy seven mandatory criteria, including historical and continuous American Indian identity in a distinct community. Each of the criteria demands exceptional anthropological, historical, and genealogical research and presentation of evidence. The vast majority of petitioners do not meet these strict standards, and far more petitions have been denied than accepted. In fact, only about 8 percent of the total number of federally recognized tribes have been individually recognized since 1960. Thus, if a Native American tribe is not federally recognized, it is not entitled to certain privileges, such as sovereign immunity.

Sovereign immunity in terms of Native Americans means that a citizen cannot sue the Native American government, unless Congress specifies otherwise or the Native American government specifically waives its immunity. State and local governments also possess sovereign immunity. Federally recognized Native American tribal governments as inherent sovereigns possess sovereign immunity as well. Non-federally recognized Native American tribal governments do not possess sovereign immunity.

The sovereign immunity of federally recognized Native American tribes has been challenged in both legal and political arenas. Beyond the federal termination policy of the 1940s and 1950s, one of the most recent affronts on Native American tribal sovereignty came in 1998 when Senator Gordon introduced the “American Indian Equal Justice Act” (S. 1691), which argued tribal sovereign immunity was inappropriate for five reasons: torts, contracts, taxation, environmental law, and alleged civil rights violations. Another reason for the introduction of this bill was that non-Native Americans complained that they have no legal recourse in civil disputes with Native American tribes. The bill did not successfully pass.

The recognition of Native American sovereign immunity dates back to the treaty period of the 1800s, and it has been upheld in several court cases. In Turner v. United States and Creek Nation of Indians, 248 U.S. 354, 357-358 (1919), the Court noted that “the Creek Nation [whose political structure had been terminated by Congress in 1906] was recognized by the United States as a distinct political community, with which it made treaties and which within its own territory administered its internal affairs. Like other governments, municipal as well as state, the Creek Nation was free from liability for injuries to persons or property…. Such liability is frequently imposed by statute upon cities and counties… but neither Congress nor the Creek nation had dealt with the subject by any legislation prior to 1908.”

In 1991 Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Associate Justice John Paul Stevens ruled Oklahoma Tax Commission v. Citizen Band Potawatomi Indian Tribe, 498 U.S. 505 that Native American tribes were domestic-dependent nations “which exercise inherent sovereign authority over their members and territories. Suits against Indian tribes are thus barred by sovereign immunity absent a clear waiver by the tribe or congressional abrogation” (509).

Native American tribes are sovereign nations that retain many of their pre-colonial rights. Sovereign immunity is one of those rights. Because of this right, Native Americans are forced to be given a voice on an equal level as other government entities, and they are also free from prosecution by individuals. In terms of other indigenous peoples around the world, this is perhaps one example that can be taken from the U.S./Native American case book and applied to other indigenous peoples. That is, other countries need to also grant their indigenous peoples sovereign status as Native American tribes have.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Taos Pueblo and Sacred Lands: A Return to the People

I was recently down in northern New Mexico doing some fieldwork, and visited several of the Native American pueblos in the area. One of my favorite areas has always been Taos and the mountains outside of the pueblo. What many people don't realize is that the Taos indigenous peoples have not always had access to certain parts of the land directly behind their pueblo, despite the fact that it was part of their ancestral homeland for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. All of this changed in 1970 when the U.S. Government returned to Taos pueblo their sacred Blue Lake and the area surrounding it.


Since time immemorial the land, water, and other natural resources in the Taos pueblo indigenous homeland sustained their lives and culture. However, after the arrival of Euroamericans this vast area began to shrink. In 1906 a substantial amount of acreage within Taos pueblo's ancestral domain was designated as National Forest by President Theodore Roosevelt. Within this acreage was Blue Lake, one of the Native American's most important religious site. After this designation the Taos indigenous people had to get permits to worship and conduct ceremonies at their own site. Furthermore, because of public access to the lake and surrounding areas, the sacredness of the site became desecrated: cabins, corrals, and even an outhouse were built within the sacred area.

Now, however, things are different. Several generations of Taos pueblo leaders fought and protested the taking of this religious area. After 70 years of perseverance, 48,000 acres of the Blue Lake area was returned to Taos pueblo by President Nixon in Public Law 91-550. Today, the indigenous peoples of Taos pueblo are able to once again conduct ceremonies, rituals, and other spiritual practices on their traditional land and at some of their traditional sites, such as Blue Lake. This allows them to keep their culture and identity alive.

To me, this is a great story. Although it has many a sad part, what I really like is the fact that through perseverance indigenous peoples can continue to flourish in an age of global hegemony. Much of my work is involved in just such fights, showing that the indigenous peoples have the knowledge, and the right, to manage and maintain their ancestral lands - often to a better degree than Euroamericans do (for example, see this article). I was honored to be in such a beautiful place, and I will continue to advocate for the return of land - or at least co-management of land - to indigenous peoples. Together, we can all make the world a better place.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Menominee Native Americans and Epistemology: Merging the Old with the New

It is often not understood by individuals, policy makers, government officials, and the like exactly how indigenous peoples differ from others. If the indigenous peoples are living in modern houses, use cars, and watch TV, how are they still "indigenous"? And if they are basically "modern", should they get any special treatment or recognition in terms of policy decisions or actions that may effect their traditional homelands? These are tough questions, ones that cannot be easily answered. However, there is one way to begin to answer these questions: by looking at epistemology.

Epistemology is defined as: the method and theory of knowing. Basically, it is one's belief system and cognitive understanding of the world, from their eyes. The key point is that indigenous peoples have a very different epistemology than those of Europeans, Americans, or any other peoples. On top of that, each indigenous tribe often has a unique epistemology from any other indigenous tribe. So, one Native American tribe may have a very different epistemology than another, and these will differ from Canadian First Nation epistemologies and so forth. Sure, there are similarities, but they are not the same. So, rather than looking at the current cultural manifestations (i.e., housing, transportation, electricity, etc.) it is more sound to first examine the epistemology of a group to see exactly how they envision themselves.

An excellent example of this method, and the insights gained from such a method that can then be used in policy decisions, self-determination cases, natural resource management plans, and more is that of Norbet Ross, Doug Medin, and Doug Cox (Epistemological Models and Culture Conflict: Menominee and Euro-American Hunters in Wisconsin [2007], ETHOS, 35(4):478-515). Here is the abstract:

We describe how Menominee Native Americans and Euro-American hunters differ with respect to how they perceive and think about nature (here, specifically animals and plants of the forest) as well as the role of humans in it. We call these models epistemological frameworks - folk theories that allow individuals to make inferences in specific situations, guiding the acquisition and formation of new knowledge. Using an approach that combines ethnographic research from anthropology with experimental approaches from related cognitive sciences, we explore the within- and between-cultural distributions of ideas, values, and beliefs and their behavioral consequences. Findings indicate that stereotyping of other groups is largely driven by differences in epistemological frameworks and resulting categorizations and interpretations of observed or assumed behaviors.

What my colleagues are saying is that the Menominee Native Americans (and other indigenous peoples in general) have a very different epistemology from that of Euroamericans. This means they understand, and view, the world around them very differently. As a result, how each group treats the environment, deals with resource issues, and so forth will differ. All one has to do is look at how the Menominee have managed their environment on their reservation.

The Menominee Native Americans have an international reputation for sustainable forestry. The Menominee forest is richer in larger trees, has a richer mix of species, and is denser even than the Nicollet forest (a state forest preserve area) to the north. It also has a higher per-acre production of timber and maintains a higher number of board feet of commercial species. This is all because of the Menominee epistemology, one that allows them to actively use, and manage, their land economically, sustainably, and productively.

If we could include the epistemologies of indigenous peoples in policies, natural resource management plans, oil development plans, mining impact assessments, and the like, we may be able to better manage our environment and its resources. The logic is simple: a broader epistemology is better than a narrow one. Including indigenous peoples epistemological knowledge is key to the future of our planet. The Menominee Native Americans have demonstrated that if we do, everyone can benefit, the people, the environment, and even Mother Earth.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cultural Affiliation, Genetic Material, and Indigenous Peoples: What Can We Learn?

The use of genetic material has been a major source of new information in the fields of anthropology, archaeology, ethnic studies, geography, and many others. Through the use of genetic material, researchers have been able to examine the history of human migration around the world through both time and space. Unlike archaeology, which relies on artifacts and other items left behind by humans, the genetic material points to actual individuals, not simply parts of a culture that may no longer exist. However, there has been one area in which genetic studies have actually clouded the picture of human history, rather then shedding any light. This is in terms of cultural affiliation. Because genetic material does not point to cultural manifestations, but rather individuals in time and space, it is unable to tell us little about the culture of the individual whose genetic material is being studied.

Now, this is not a problem if the individual whose genetic material under study is alive. One can simply ask them about their cultural affiliation. However, in terms of indigenous peoples, more is at stake. What is at stake are claims of ancestry, land rights, self-determination rights, and much more. The famous Kennewick Man case was about this very issue. In fact, I have two books on the topic (here, and here).


The real question is, therefore, what can genetic studies tell us about contemporary indigenous peoples and their ancestry? One example of what we can learn I discussed in terms of the indigenous peoples of the Andes and the use of mitochondrial DNA for determining cultural affiliation (the article can be found here). Another example comes from a recent study by Bolnick and Smith (American Antiquity 72(4):627-644), in which they conclude that "The pattern of mtDNA variation at this site suggests that matrilineal relationships did not strongly influence burial practices." The authors were studying the Klunk Mound Group in Illinois, looking at burial patterns and the sites overall relation to the famous Native American Hopewell Moundbuilders. The really interesting point is that in this case the genetic material tells us nothing about the culture of the people associated with the Klunk Mound Group. This is because they used mtDNA, which is only transferred from mother to daughter, but because the Native American people of the Klunk Mound didn't necessarily practice matrilineal burial practices, we can discern little. We do know that they didn't practice matrilineal burial practices, but beyond that, we are unable to determine much else regarding the culture and the affiliation of those associated with the culture.

So what this tells us is that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to use genetic material to determine cultural affiliation. Because cultures are defined largely on what they leave behind, at least archaeologically, it is very difficult to match the culture with a genetic population (because the genetic population is defined on gene allele profiles, not cultural items). Thus, although molecular genetic studies may give us some key insights into populations in history, trying to link those populations to a culture must be done with the utmost caution, and with collaborating evidence, including archaeology, ethnography, linguistics, and oral traditions.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Native Title Claims and Australian Indigenous Aboriginal People

The process of globalization has had a large impact on indigenous peoples throughout the world, from impacts in terms of natural resources to self-determination and social justice issues. How indigenous peoples are able to mitigate some of these impacts is an important topic, one that many social scientists have been working on for a number of years. A colleague of mine, Mary Edmunds has been working extensively in Australia on resolving land disputes between the Native Australian Aborigines, the government, and large corporations. In a recent article she wrote (Anthropology News 48), she outlines several of the key points concerning the indigenous peoples of Australia (Aborigines) and land dispute issues.

Historically, conflict and its management were defined within a way of life based on local and small-scale groups structured by family and densely related kinship networks. This is no longer the case, as now intermediaries are emerging at the intersection of modern resource development and the Australian legal system, one that allows the indigenous peoples of Australia the right to negotiate claims of Native title to Australia's lands. One case is that of the Pilbara Aboriginal people.

The Pilbara Aboriginal people's major experience with global forces began in the 1960s with the development of iron-ore mining. Within a decade, ten new towns, four new railways, hundreds of miles of roads, power lines, and pipelines, along with three new deepwater ports were all built in Pilbara traditional lands. In giving the Aboriginal people some semblance of voice in the face of such change, Australia allows Native title via the common law system.

The first case (Mabo v. Queensland) was the first example of recognition of Native title by Australia's common law system. Australia's Native Title Act followed at the end of 1993. This allows indigenous peoples to make application for their Native title to be legally recognized on the basis of traditional law and custom. It also provides for a threshold test to be applied for Native title applications to be registered with the National Native Title Tribunal. In between making an application and a successful Native title claim - often a period of over a decade - Australian Aborigines have the right to negotiate over developments on the area of their claim. The Pilbara Aboriginal people are now using this legal claim system to mitigate future impacts to their traditional homeland.

This is quite an innovative and humane way to go about this. It allows a voice for the indigenous peoples of Australia in matters concerning their traditional resources and homeland. So, just because the Aboriginal group may not have Native title over a piece of land at a certain point in time, companies must still consult and listen to the indigenous peoples, for they have the "right to negotiate." In the United States, sadly, this is not the same. Native Americans have the right to negotiate as a environmental justice population if the development is going to impact them directly, but if it is taking place on their traditional lands (and they do not have any treaty rights over those lands), they can largely be excluded from the process.

Australia has a very poor track record when it comes to dealing with the indigenous Aboriginal people, but here is an example of a positive step in the right direction. Aboriginal people should be given an equal voice in all impacts affecting traditional homelands and resources. The Native Title Act of 1993 is a small step in this direction.

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Archaeology and the Peopling of North America: Before Clovis

The question of when the first people arrived in the Americas has long been of interest. Over the course of the years, hundreds of theories have been put forth, ranging from ancient African seafarers landing in Mexico to Polynesians making their way to South America and then spreading north and south. However, the one that has had the most support, and been the standard voice of the academic community, is that of the Bering Landbridge and the Clovis-First hypothesis. This theory contended that ancient Asian migrants moved across the Bering Landbridge at the end of the Pleistocene (14,000-12,500 years ago) when sea levels were reduced and water was trapped in giant glaciers. The technology these people were thought to have used was called "Clovis", named after the famous site in Clovis, New Mexico where lithic points were found.

The story of how this theory - now generally discredited - became the standard academic stance for close to 100 years is an interesting one. The Clovis site was not the first one to be discovered with Pleistocene/Holocene aged artifacts in the Americas. Nor was it the best preserved or most extensive of early people's archaeological sites. Rather, it was the one that academics were allowed to see and agree upon in situ. An article by Matthew E. Hill, Jr. (Before Folsom: The 12 Mile Creek Site and the Debate Over the Peopling of the Americas) clears up this strange history of how certain sites in the Americas have been given credit, while others have gone unstudied or neglected in theories examining the peopling of the New World.

Here is the abstract:

Histories of American archaeology rightly point to the discoveries at the Folsom site as the turning point in the debate of a Pleistocene peopling of North America. However, this was not the first site where fluted projectile points were recovered in association with an extinct form of bison. In 1895 University of Kansas paleontologists excavated the 12 Mile Creek site in western Kansas and recovered an in situ fluted projectile point with the remains of 13 Bison antiquus skeletons. The site is generally overlooked in the histories of this debate. Published articles and unpublished personal letters reveal that 12 Mile Creek was influential to the Folsom excavators as well as a number of other important researchers. The limited influence that 12 Mile Creek had on the anthropological community was not because of the loss of the projectile point from the site or difficulties in dating the site, but was instead due to the manner in which the investigators presented their results. What differentiated the 12 Mile Creek site from Folsom was that the investigators of the latter site allowed outside researchers to independently validate claims about the site's age and the association between the artifacts and animal remains.

This is a very interesting article, for we can see that the same process has taken place again, almost 100 years later. Sites such as China Lake, Meadowcroft Rock Shelter, Pedra Furada, and numerous others have all been considered old, but the evidence has not been overly accepted by the academic community. In fact, it was not until Monte Verde in Chile was excavated by Tom Dillehay - and independently verified by a group of archaeologists - that the Clovis-First hypothesis was finally called dead. What I find especially interesting is that the indigenous peoples of the Americas (Native Americans, First Nation peoples, Indigenous peoples of the Amazon, and numerous others) have all been saying that their oral traditions point to a time before the Holocene. This is exactly what the archaeological evidence now affirms (as well as the genetic evidence). But because academics cannot "confirm" this form of evidence in terms of their epistemology (i.e., oral traditions do not fit into the standard scientific paradigm), it has been left out of the picture.

The article by Hill demonstrates two things: 1) how slow archaeology changes its paradigms despite other evidence; and 2) that our current picture of the peopling of the Americas could be greatly enhanced if we opened up our avenues for evidence to indigenous peoples and their knowledge. Oral traditions are a powerful source of evidence. Perhaps if we incorporated them into our understanding of the peopling of the Americas we could get a more human understanding of what happened many thousands of years ago. Instead, we have a picture filled with lithics, DNA, and animal bones. A little humanness would do a great service to shedding light on this interesting time period and bring the indigenous peoples of the Americas into the picture.

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Saturday, November 3, 2007

Indigenous Peoples and Policy Decisions: Opening Up the Conversation

Indigenous peoples face a lot of struggles today, ranging from natural resource exploitation to simple questions of self-determination and indigenous status. In the United States, one of the more frequent struggles that is covered in the media is that of indigenous peoples' heritage. That is, the stuff indigenous peoples have left behind in time and space (i.e., archaeological items). The reason that this topic gets a lot of media coverage in the United States is that for most of the history of the US, indigenous peoples of North America (i.e., Native Americans, First Nation peoples, Native Alaskan and Hawaiian peoples) have not been able to claim their past. The past has been the privy of archaeologists.

Well, during the 20th century and continuing now, indigenous peoples have been fighting for their basic rights, including the right to claim what is theirs (or at least to have a say in the study of their stuff). Archaeologists and museum officials originally fought this trend since they believed they knew best and should have sole discretion over how things from the past should be treated, studied, and kept. Now, however, they have slowly begun to realize that this is not the best approach. It is inhuman, unjust, and simply wrong. One way that indigenous peoples of the United States have gotten some of their basic rights back is through legislation: such laws and acts as the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Archaeological Resource Protection Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and several Executive Orders (A list of these laws and links to the actual text is here).

As with all laws, sometimes it has worked out for the indigenous peoples, other times not. However, what I want to highlight is that these laws (despite their pluses and minuses) have forced archaeologists, anthropologists, policy officials, cultural resource managers, etc.) to ask, and work with, indigenous peoples. No longer can policy makers or archaeologists make decisions about historical items without asking the people affiliated with those items what they think.

An example of this is the Historic Preservation Learning Portal, launched in 2003 by the National Park Service's Federal Preservation Institute in cooperation with 22 federal agencies and offices. The HPLP is an information-discovery and knowledge-management engine whose search function is publicly available. Currently, the HPLP indexes the entire contents of nearly 1,000 websites weekly.

What is so cool is that because the HPLP is open to all, indigenous peoples can also access the same information and tools as archaeologists, cultural resource managers, policy makers, and the like, allowing them to be directly involved in real-time with decisions affecting their culture and lifeways. This allows indigenous peoples to directly examine the historic preservation compliance activities in their traditional homeland. It also allows for quicker and more immediate access to critical information.

Have we come all the way - full circle? No, the inclusion of indigenous peoples' views, beliefs, knowledge, and understanding has not reached a nadir, but it is growing. What is exciting, at least for me, is that not only are we finally giving the respect to indigenous knowledge its due, but we are potentially making better, more holistic and informed decisions in terms of making the world a better place. Let's keep going in this direction...

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Fishery Management: A Case from Puerto Rico

I've often talked about what is called "traditional ecological knowledge" (TEK) or "local ecological knowledge" (LEK). These terms reflect the local wisdom indigenous peoples have about their homeland, their environment, the resources present, and how they change over time. The value of this knowledge is immense. The collective wisdom of indigenous peoples can bring to bear hundreds or thousands of years of place-based experiential knowledge on a range of topics. Science, a relative new comer in terms of knowledge-forming methods, is still trying to figure out how to incorporate indigenous peoples knowledge (TEK or LEK) into its paradigm. Anthropologists and others have been working on bridging this gap, although at times it can be quite difficult.

Personally, I have worked on several projects where we have used traditional ecological knowledge to inform and compliment resource management plans, natural resource damage assessments, and environmental impact assessments. Not only do you get a better understanding of the resource under consideration, but you also get to incorporate the indigenous peoples' values into the plan, allowing for a more comprehensive, collaborative, and sound result. In a recent study published in the American Anthropologist, Carlos G. Garcia-Quijano exemplifies the utility of indigenous peoples' knowledge in managing tropical fisheries off the coast of Puerto Rico.


Here is the Abstract:

Fishers' Knowledge of Marine Species Assemblages: Bridging Between Scientific and Local Ecological Knowledge in Southeastern Puerto Rico by Carlos G. Garcia-Quijano

Increasingly, local ecological knowledge (LEK) held by groups of people engaging directly with their ecosystems for food production is recognized as a valuable tool for understanding environmental change, as well as for ecosystem management and conservation. However, the acceptance of LEK for resource management has been partly hindered by difficulties in translating local knowledge into a form that can be applied directly to Western scientific endeavors. Anthropology's focus on cultural meaning makes its practitioners uniquely qualified to find common ground between different systems of knowledge. Here, I report the use of ethnographic methods to represent Puerto Rican small-scale fishers' knowledge about tropical coastal habitat connectivity and the composition of species assemblages by underwater habitats. These two topics are of current interest for tropical fishery science and their study can benefit from fishers' extensive experience with the coastal environments on which they depend.

What are some of the benefits from this particular study? Local ecological knowledge (LEK) was able to inform science about appropriate "indicator" species of fish for understanding the health of the coral reef ecosystem, the identification of representative species assemblages for different types of underwater habitats, the degree to which adjacent neighborhoods share fish and shellfish species, and habitat connectivity. As such, indigenous peoples and their knowledge can make broad contributions to the knowledge used for local ecosystem management. Just because indigenous peoples' knowledge may not be "empirical" in the standard way does not mean it cannot be used with empirical data to inform decisions.

By working together, scientists, managers, environmentalists, and indigenous peoples can all help to keep the earth in a better state of balance. Hopefully, with this study and others, we (as humans) can interact and manage our resources in a more holistic and sane manner.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Biofuel and it's Non-sustainable Impacts: A Case from West Papua

Where I live, the new buzzwords are all about the environment: biofuel, sustainability, eco-friendly, fair trade, etc. Some of these ideas are great, and are needed quite badly if we are to stop altering the planet as rapidly as we are. However, many have been co-opted by the usual consumer/business/money business and are really no better then the alternative they are replacing. One such example is that of biofuels.

Most people don't realize that as they jump from bandwagon to bandwagon in the environmental rhetoric, they are still having a giant impact on indigenous peoples around the world. This despite their best efforts to "save the environment" or the "native cultures" of the world by using biofuel instead of traditional oil and gas. One example that highlights the complexity of the situation, and the real need for people to stop consuming over just simply substituting one consumptive behavior (oil and gas) for another (biofuel), is that of oil palm in West Papua.

West Papua is a province of Western New Guinea and is home to numerous indigenous peoples who continue to fight for their traditional cultural lifeways in the face of increasing imperial and colonial forces. Recently, reports of military violence and an attack by traditional landowners on the personnel and property of Korean and Indonesian owned logging and oil palm plantation projects have surfaced. The Muyu indigenous tribe has clashed with these outsiders near the remote town of Asiki, 250 kilometers northwest of Australia's Torres Strait, over the development of oil palm plantations. These oil palm plantations are being developed in the traditional homeland of the Muyu and other indigenous peoples for use by consuming Western countries as a form of biofuel (not very eco- or human friendly after all).

The recent violence reported at the Korindo operation appears to be a result of longstanding disagreements over land rights between Korindo and local indigenous peoples including the Auyu, Mandobo, Marind, and Muyu groups. The conflict over the expansion of oil palms is largely driven by international demand for biofuel. Oil palm is the second largest traded vegetable crop, behind soy, and is used both to make bio-diesel and as a fuel to be burnt in power stations for the generation of electricity. The Indonesian government appears to be intent on a massive expansion in oil palm plantations to feed the consuming needs of Western nations, which will involve the destruction of millions of hectares of rainforest and the traditional lifeways of the indigenous people in the region.

The creation of oil palm plantations involves clear felling and burning the forest, which means destroying indigenous peoples' livelihood, homes, ancestral graves, and sacred sites in the process. Currently 5 million hectares of new oil palm plantations are planned or West Papua by 2012. The palm oil industry has already set up 6.5 million hectares of oil palm plantations across Sumatra and Borneo, but it is estimated that it is probably responsible for the destruction of 10 million hectares of rainforest.

The indigenous peoples' of these countries are at a loss. They can try and fend off the encroaching logging and oil palm companies, but for how long and with what? It is up to us, the consuming Western nations that are the driving force behind the oil palm and biofuels industry, to recognize that like many other "environmentally friendly" practices, this one has also been co-opted by big business. Ultimately, biofuel may be a good alternative to traditional oil and gas, but currently it is no better. The demand for biofuel in the form of palm oil is only going to get bigger, impacting thousands of indigenous peoples and their traditional lifeways. It is up to us, therefore, to do our part and make the informed decision. Perhaps the old-school methods of transportation really had something going; walking and biking don't pollute, burn calories, and let you enjoy the beautiful outdoors. Tomorrow, how about walking to work and taking note of the plants and animals that you are helping to save on your way? Could be good for you and for everyone else.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Agencies and Indigenous Peoples Work Together in Mexico: A Case from Chimalapas, Oaxaca

High in the mountains of the Chimalapas, the largest undisturbed cloud forest in all of Central America, life is teeming. From evergreen forests to dry shrub, the variety of habitats in this ecoregion attracts an amazing diversity of wildlife, including the northernmost range of the resplendent quetzal. The Chimalapas Montane Forests ecoregion is a mixture of mountains, plateaus, valleys, and cliffs. The mountains are oriented in an east-west direction and are dissected by many rivers that form deep canyons. Many indigenous peoples live and depend on this forests for their survival.

The Chimalapas montane forests are facing serious threats from logging and agricultural expansion. Many of these forests have almost vanished entirely. In 1998, forest fires burned almost 17,000 acres of this cloud forest. Logging is still extensive in much of the region, and plans for building a dam and a major highway threaten the largest fragments of undisturbed forests. Non-indigenous peoples continue to expand into the area, clearing forests for industrial development and agriculture, severely impacting the indigenous peoples of the region. Many other wildlife species could also share this same fate if the forests are not adequately protected.

To mitigate some of these impacts, in Chimalapas, Mexico, non-governmental actors have attempted to integrate indigenous people into the discourse and practices of the Western environmental movement. In a recent article, however, Molly Doane of the University of Illinois at Chicago argued that although the movement in Chimalapas drew from the well-developed symbolic toolkit of the environmental movement, it was not able to create a space for local indigenous people's concerns within the transnational agenda that was already well established and inflexible. Political ecology was the hinge of this movement: a political-economic analysis that validated traditional agrarian concerns in Chimalapas but included an environmentalist discourse legible to international funders.

By creating a new discourse about Chimalapas, environmentalists in the region helped to consolidate the region as a socially and politically defined place. Activists also attempted to spark new forms of cultural production, recasting "modern" agrarian or indigenous identities embedded in national campesino politics as deeply connected to nature. The lessened was learned, and environmentalists and activists soon realized that they had to incorporate the indigenous peoples concerns if any program was to succeed.

Recently, some of the ecological goals shared by conservationists and indigenous peoples in Chimalapas have, in fact, been realized. 13,000 hectares of lands in Colonia, Cuauhtemoc were returned to Santa Maria Chimalapa, and the World Wildlife Fund has a new large-scale project in the region for the 2003-2008 period that attempts to coordinate the efforts among a number of small NGO projects and government agencies in the interest of establishing a protected area of some kind. Let us just hope that they continue to involve, and remember, the indigenous peoples who depend on this land and its resources for cultural and individual survival.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Caribbean Before Columbus?

I've always had a warm spot in my heart for the Caribbean, especially after having lived in the Dominican Republic twice while I did various social justice and environmental projects. The islands are a fascinating place, being the first place impacted by Western imperial and colonial processes during the 15th century. A new study that has recently come out from the journal Latin American Antiquity highlights what the islands were like just before that dreaded day in 1492 when Columbus and his crew landed on the island of Hispanola.



Here is the abstract and title:

Hofman, Corinne L.; Bright, Alistair J.; Boomert, Arie; and Knippenberg, Sebastiaan. (2007). Island Rhythms: The Web of Social Relationships and Interaction Networks in the Lesser Antillean Archipelago Between 400 BC and AD 1492 (Latin American Antiquity, 18(3):243-268).

The precolonial communities of the Caribbean archipelago were not insular. The discontinuous natural resource distribution, the maritime orientation of the Caribbean Amerindians, and the complexities of regional social interaction ensured that the precolonial Caribbean inslandscape was dynamic and highly interconnected. This report explores the sociocultural behavior and intercommunity exchange relationships of the inhabitants of the Lesser Antilles. It combines related archaeological case studies encompassing the procurement and exchange of: 1) raw materials and utilitarian goods with a wide spatial and social distribution, 2) goods with high stylistic visibility and presumed social function as markers of identity or status, and 3) prestige goods with profound ceremonial value. The study of these objects reveals overarching social and ideological dimensions to Caribbean life. Data suggest that social relationships manifest themselves at different levels and through distinct rhythms while taking on various material guises during the Ceramic age Amerindian occupation of the Caribbean islands (400 BC to AD 1492). While there is great potential in unraveling interaction networks through the careful study of distribution patterns, the incorporation of ethnohistoric and ethnographic information is imperative to elucidate the web of social relationships underlying these material manifestations.

If one can get around some of the academic jargon used in the abstract, what the study actually demonstrates is that the people of the Lesser Antilies, such as today's Arawakan and Cariban speaking people, as well as the ancestors of the Greater Antilles Taino speaking people, are cultural affiliated with these past cultural manifestations. That is, the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean prior to colonial occupation were a highly sophisticated group of people composed of numerous "cultures" that each had ingenious and local forms of cultural manifestations. Those local forms, spread across the archipelago, are still found in the campo and villages today.

As noted at the end of the article: "During precolonial times in the Lesser Antilles, interaction occurred at different levels in varying intensity, depending on the exchanged good, timing, and motive. Exchange was instrumental in shaping and maintaining healthy social relationships between islanders, thereby safeguarding one's own fitness. The multiple exchange modes reflect fluid social ties based on kinship, marriage, and lineage." (p. 261).

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Genetic Evidence and the Peopling of Asia

The DNA of Indigenous peoples is a hot topic these days for anthropologists, geneticists, and others interested in figuring out the migration patters of humans in prehistory. Often there are problems with how the DNA is obtained from indigenous peoples, what they are told it will be used for, acknowledgment that it will be stored and reused for multiple purposes, and that it may be used by researchers to either claim affiliation or lack of affiliation between certain indigenous groups and those groups identified in prehistory. I've written a fair amount about this, with a book on the topic discussing the peopling of North America in prehistory, a short article on the same topic, and then a short blurb as well.

Well, a recent study was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics that deals with this topic, although not from the perspective if North America. Rather, these researchers tried to figure out how Asia was originally colonized in the Pleistocene. Here is the abstract:

Phylogeographic Analysis of Mitochondrial DNA in Northern Asian Populations (81:1025-1041).

Miroslava Derenko, Boris Malyarchuk, Tomasz Grzybowski, Galina Denisova, Irina Dambueva, Maria Perkova, Choduraa Dorzhu, Faina Luzina, Hong Kyu Lee, Tomas Vanecek, Richard Villems, and Ilia Zakharov

To elucidate the human colonization process of northern Asia and human dispersals to the Americas, a diverse subset of 71 mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) lineages was chosen for complete genome sequencing from the collection of 1,432 control-region sequences sampled from 18 autochthonous populations of northern, central, eastern, and southwestern Asia. On the basis of complete mtDNA sequencing, we have revised the classification of haplogroups A, D2, G1, M7, and I; identified six new subhaplogroups (I4, N1e, G1c, M7d, M7e, and J1b2a); and fully characterized haplogroups N1a and G1b, which were previously described only by the first hypervariable segment (HVS1) sequencing and coding-region restriction-fragment–length polymorphism analysis. Our findings indicate that the southern Siberian mtDNA pool harbors several lineages associated with the Late Upper Paleolithic and/or early Neolithic dispersals from both eastern Asia and southwestern Asia/southern Caucasus. Moreover, the phylogeography of the D2 lineages suggests that southern Siberia is likely to be a geographical source for the last postglacial maximum spread of this subhaplogroup to northern Siberia and that the expansion of the D2b branch occurred in Beringia 7,000 years ago. In general, a detailed analysis of mtDNA gene pools of northern Asians provides the additional evidence to rule out the existence of a northern Asian route for the initial human colonization of Asia.

This evidence is very compelling for archaeologists and others, for it seems to corroborate what is already known, that Asia was peopled from the south along the Indian subcontinent. However, what it does not explain is why the dental evidence argues for a slightly different approach: the dental evidence argues that there was a large influx of people moving into Asia (and north Asia) from central Europe (i.e., the Caucasus Mountain area) during the Middle Pleistocene. If this is the case, then it looks like there are several migration waves into Asia (based on DNA and dentition), and that much of Christy Turner's work with dental morphology stands: several waves migrated into Asia, and from there a major wave split, sending groups north and groups south, representing his two groups of Sinodonty and Sundadonty.

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Monday, October 8, 2007

Education and Peru: The Work of Tarpurisunchis

Tarpurisunchis is a Peruvian NGO working on education in Apurimac, one of the poorest regions of Peru. It is a civil organization without profit aims. Tarpurisunchis is a Quechua (native language) word for "let us sow".



People living in the Andes have been repeteadly and violently oppressed throughout their history. Colonization is still a daily topic in many rural areas. The period of the landowners and the haciëndas lasted up to the seventies, and the region is still recovering from terrorist violence of the 80s and 90s. Many have escaped to larger cities or to foreign countries, especially the better educated and more wealthy residents who could flee the region then.

In Peru, there is a tradition that the capital, Lima, dictates the rules. Even until this day, residents search for wisdom from Lima…
However, a policy was started that is intended to transfer powers to the regions. People learn to get used to the right of self-determination, to take responsibility and to appreciate their own language and culture. Within Peru, Apurimac is the region with the lowest quality in education. In some rural areas, there is also a significant shortage to education supplies, especially in case of pre-school and high schools. Some crucial figures: 36.9 percent illiteracy, average duration of a study of 4.6 years, and 54.4 percent of the population does not finish elementary school.

All education directives have always been imposed from Lima, without taking into account the completely different realities in the Andes. Most teachers are highly motivated yet severely underpaid. There is little invested in education and the education systems have become obsolete. Subjects and methodologies should be well-considered again, because students continue to score poorly on basic knowledge, such as math and language arts.

As a school, Tarpurisunchis is already a positive example in the region, because they have carried out visible and meaningful changes. Some examples: applying new education methods, the realignment of the (resident’s/native’s) own identity and language (Quechua), the interactive communication with the children, abolishing military marches, and valuing local and traditional food, etc. We are the first to introduce Quechua back into the schools. Other schools are beginning to follow this example.
Within 3 years, the pre-school school and the first 2 elementary grades have reached 100 students. Our aim is to recruit more than 500 students for the whole school (pre-school, elementary and high school levels).

Tarpurisunchis is active in two areas:

- THE REGIONAL EDUCATIONAL REFORM PROGRAM - The regional educational reform program. This involves: adapted curricula, capacity building of educators, participation of students, reinforcing Quechua as part of one’s identity, renewing libraries and a communication project around social topics. Tarpurisunchis is cooperating with governments and all participants involved.

- MODEL SCHOOL. It aims to give an innovating, alternative example for the region. The quality of education in Apurímac is depressingly low. We want to show with our school that we can improve quality of education. At this moment, we have a pre-school school and an elementary school (only 1st and 2nd grade). In the long run we are also organizing a high school.

http://tarpurisunchis.volensamerica.org/

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Friday, October 5, 2007

Senate Changes Native American Graves Protection and Repatriaion Act Language

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee approved a bill last Thursday to amend the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. S.2078. The Native American Omnibus Technical Corrections Act, changes the definition of “Native American” under NAGPRA. It allows the repatriation of ancestors and artifacts that aren’t linked to present-day tribes. The amendment is a response to a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in the Kennewick Man case. The court said the 9,200-year-old man, who was found on a former reservation, is not Native American because he cannot be linked to a present-day tribe.

As I argued extensively in Respect for the Ancestors, just now the language of NAGPRA is catching up with the evidence. Here is the actual change in the text:

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the `Native American Omnibus Technical Corrections Act of 2007'.

SEC. 2. DEFINITION OF NATIVE AMERICAN.

Section 2(9) of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (25 U.S.C. 3001(9)) is amended--

(1) by inserting `or was' after `is'; and

(2) by inserting after `indigenous to' the following: `any geographic area that is now located within the boundaries of'.

Now with this language, contemporary Native Americans have the legal weight that they were lacking to claim their ancestors. Prior to this, if there was no lineal proof in the form of some "scientifically" valid evidence, the language of the law argued that the skeletons were not Native American. This is no longer the case, so Kennewick Man, Buhl Woman, Spirit Cave Mummy, and the like must now be considered ancestors of today's Native American peoples.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The United States and Native Americans: Past Policies and the UN Declaration

In the previous two posts I discussed the general thrust of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Although hailed as a major win for indigenous peoples, three of the biggest players in the United Nations failed to sign the Declaration and thus are not bound by their articles: Canada, Australia, and the United States. There are many reasons for this, some of which I outlined here. In this post, I'm concerned with outlining the articles of the Declaration that the U.S. historically did not follow by any means, but now attempts to follow in principle.

Article 7
2): Indigenous peoples have the collective right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples and shall not be subjected to any act of genocide or any other act of violence, including forcibly removing children of the group to another group.

Article 8
1) Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.
2) States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for: a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities; b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources; c) Any form of forced population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights; d) Any form of forced assimilation or integration; e) Any form of propaganda designed to promote or incite racial or ethnic discrimination directed against them.

Article 10
Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.

Article 12
2. States shall seek to enable the access and/or repatriation of ceremonial objects and human remains in their possession through fair, transparent and effective mechanisms developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples concerned.

Article 13
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.
2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that this right is protected and also to ensure that indigenous peoples can understand and be understood in political, legal and administrative proceedings, where necessary through the provision of interpretation or by other appropriate means.

Article 14
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.
2. Indigenous individuals, particularly children, have the right to all levels and forms of education of the State without discrimination.
3. States shall, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, take effective measures, in order for indigenous individuals, particularly children, including those living outside their communities, to have access, when possible, to an education in their own culture and provided in their own language.

Article 15
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and diversity of their cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations which shall be appropriately reflected in education and public information.
2. States shall take effective measures, in consultation and cooperation with the indigenous peoples concerned, to combat prejudice and eliminate discrimination and to promote tolerance, understanding and good relations among indigenous peoples and all other segments of society.

Article 18
Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions.

Article 19
States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.

Article 20
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and develop their political, economic and social systems or institutions, to be secure in the enjoyment of their own means of subsistence and development, and to engage freely in all their traditional and other economic activities.
2. Indigenous peoples deprived of their means of subsistence and development are entitled to just and fair redress.

Article 26
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.
2. Indigenous peoples have the right to own, use, develop and control the lands, territories and resources that they possess by reason of traditional ownership or other traditional occupation or use, as well as those which they have otherwise acquired.
3. States shall give legal recognition and protection to these lands, territories and resources. Such recognition shall be conducted with due respect to the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned.

Article 27
States shall establish and implement, in conjunction with indigenous peoples concerned, a fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent process, giving due recognition to indigenous peoples’ laws, traditions, customs and land tenure systems, to recognize and adjudicate the rights of indigenous peoples pertaining to their lands, territories and resources, including those which were traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used. Indigenous peoples shall have the right to participate in this process.

Article 28
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to redress, by means that can include restitution or, when this is not possible, just, fair and equitable compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.
2. Unless otherwise freely agreed upon by the peoples concerned, compensation shall take the form of lands, territories and resources equal in quality, size and legal status or of monetary compensation or other appropriate redress.

Article 29
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources. States shall establish and implement assistance programmes for indigenous peoples for such conservation and protection, without discrimination.
2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that no storage or disposal of hazardous materials shall take place in the lands or territories of indigenous peoples without their free, prior and informed consent.
3. States shall also take effective measures to ensure, as needed, that programmes for monitoring, maintaining and restoring the health of indigenous peoples, as developed and implemented by the peoples affected by such materials, are duly implemented.

Article 30
1. Military activities shall not take place in the lands or territories of indigenous peoples, unless justified by a relevant public interest or otherwise freely agreed with or requested by the indigenous peoples concerned.
2. States shall undertake effective consultations with the indigenous peoples concerned, through appropriate procedures and in particular through their representative institutions, prior to using their lands or territories for military activities.

Article 32
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources.
2. States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.
3. States shall provide effective mechanisms for just and fair redress for any such activities, and appropriate measures shall be taken to mitigate adverse environmental, economic, social, cultural or spiritual impact.

Article 33
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine their own identity or membership in accordance with their customs and traditions. This does not impair the right of indigenous individuals to obtain citizenship of the States in which they
live.
2. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine the structures and to select the membership of their institutions in accordance with their own procedures.

Article 37
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the recognition, observance and enforcement of treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements concluded with States or their successors and to have States honour and respect such treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements.
2. Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as diminishing or eliminating the rights of indigenous peoples contained in treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements.

Article 38
States in consultation and cooperation with indigenous peoples, shall take the appropriate measures, including legislative measures, to achieve the ends of this Declaration.

As can be seen, these read like a list of assimilation and acculturation techniques that the U.S. has tried over the course of the last 400 years. In fact, the U.S. tried - and continues to try - every single one of these techniques when dealing with Native Americans. Sad really, when you think about it. One of the most powerful, technologically advanced, and financially rich countries in the history of the world and all the politicians can come up with in working with indigenous peoples of this land are these techniques? Not very creative thinking I would argue. The beauty, however, is that because Native Americans were smarter to a large part then the imperial colonists, they survived and defeated every one of these techniques. Now, it is up to us to help other indigenous peoples around the world learn how they can mitigate their own imperial colonists - history provides the answers thanks in large part to Native Americans and their strong will.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Why the U.S. Did Not Adopt the United Nation Declaration on Indigenous Peoples Rights

The United Nations earlier this month adopted the historic Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It has been hailed as a small step in the fight to give indigenous peoples equal rights, cultural equity, and social justice. Sadly, three countries with large indigenous populations failed to sign the Declaration: Canada, Australia, and the United States. In the last post I set out the major points of the Declaration. In this post I will set out the major points that were the primary reason the United States did NOT want the U.N. to adopt the Declaration.

Here we go:

Recognizing also the urgent need to respect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples affirmed in treaties, agreements, and other constructive arrangements with States. (Sorry, the U.S. has consistently failed, and will continue to fail, in honoring the numerous treaties it signed with Native American tribes from the early 1800s up to 1872).

Considering that the rights affirmed in treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements between States and indigenous peoples are, in some situations, matters of international concern, interest, responsibility and character.

Encouraging States to comply with and effectively implement all their obligations as they apply to indigenous peoples under international instruments, in particular those related to human rights, in consultation and cooperation with the peoples concerned.

Recognizing and reaffirming that indigenous individuals are entitled without discrimination to all human rights recognized in international law, and that indigenous peoples possess collective rights which are indispensable for their existence, well-being and integral development as peoples. (Again, none of these are appealing to the U.S. for they have never fully honored the treaties and their obligations to Native Americans. Even today, there is still hesitation by the U.S. to recognized certain aspects of treaty rights accorded to Native Americans, such as fishing and hunting rights, cultural resource rights, and natural resource rights. When uranium is found on the Navajo reservation, when tribes try and fish salmon for their ceremonies, or when oil and natural gas are found on tribal land, often big companies with the backing of the U.S. government fail to recognize the treaty rights Native Americans have been accorded. As in all things U.S.: money trumps all.)

Here is the specific Article that the United States objected to:

Article 3: Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

The U.S., along with Canada and Australia, are unwilling to allow the indigenous peoples of these places determine their own political status, nor do they allow them to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

In the U.S., things have gotten better because Native Americans, anthropologists, activists, and concerned citizens have been speaking out for over 100 years. In the next post I'll profile the parts of the Declaration that the U.S. is now following but historically did not.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Indigenous Peoples Rights and the United Nations: The New Declaration

The United Nations recently adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Many have hailed this as a big victory for indigenous peoples around the world. In general I agree, but I live in one of the countries that chose not to sign the Declaration. Therefore, in the next two posts I will outline the components that I see as having relevance to the United States. First, however, it is interesting to see that the main thrust of the Declaration is basically in line with what Victor and I have been discussing concerning "cultural equity."

Here are the main points from the Declaration:

Affirming that indigenous peoples are equal to all other peoples, while recognizing the right of all peoples to be different, to consider themselves different, and to be respected as such,

Affirming also that all peoples contribute to the diversity and richness of civilizations and cultures, which constitute the common heritage of humankind,

Affirming further that all doctrines, policies and practices based on or advocating superiority of peoples or individuals on the basis of national origin or racial, religious, ethnic or cultural differences are racist, scientifically false, legally invalid, morally condemnable and socially unjust,

Reaffirming that indigenous peoples, in the exercise of their rights, should be free from discrimination of any kind,

Concerned that indigenous peoples have suffered from historic injustices as a result of, inter alia, their colonization and dispossession of their lands, territories and resources, thus preventing them from exercising, in particular, their right to development in accordance with their own needs and interests,

Recognizing the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples which derive from their political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies, especially their rights to their lands, territories and resources.

It is always nice to see that one's thinking (in terms of cultural equity) is generally in line with the leading scholars and political thinkers in the field. However, there are many problems with the Declaration, especially in terms of why the United States, Canada, and other countries decided not to adopt the Declaration. The troublesome aspects of the Declaration will be outlined in the next two posts.

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