Only after I have my computer with two screens, ArcGIS fully-functional, my $15,000 Trimble GPS fully loaded with data, and my SD cards sorted with all my field photos do I feel comfortable moving forward to document and report our tribe's most sacred places and resources. Wait a minute. A computer with two screens? ArcGIS? A $15,000 GPS? SD cards? What are all these things? Why do I NEED them so badly, and why do I feel completely helpless without them? Especially, when all I am doing is recording site information, traditional cultural knowledge and reporting my findings. Have these actually become necessities in cultural resource management? Or are we just setting the bar at such a technologically specialized level that it becomes more unapproachable for Native people to get involved?
A fancy Trimble GPS.
My co-worker is Yakama Tribal elder. This one time, he and I were out in the field with this new, hotshot, fresh-out-of-grad-school archaeologist. This person thought he had all the answers for all the problems. We always admire the fresh optimism of the newborn archaeologist, so, we let him talk...a lot. We eventually stopped at a site, and the newborn begins to flex his archaeological mind muscles about the site. All the while my co-worker was completely silent. After the newborn was done, my coworker quietly asked: "Well, NAME, you seem to have read a lot about this site, but can you name me five different foods and medicines that grow at this site?" The newborn's jaw dropped and the uncomfortable silence was deafening. The newborn fumbled over his tongue for a few minutes and my co-worker explained the true history behind the site. The newborn may have received his degrees, but he hadn't finished his education.
My co-worker has worked in cultural resource management for over twenty years, was raised traditionally in a home that only utilized the Native languages of our Tribe and is an active member of our traditional Washaat religion. He hasn't earned a Master's or even a Bachelors degree in Archaeology or Anthropology, but he can dig and profile a 1 m x 1 m unit better than anyone, and he can name the meanings of place names in two different Native languages along the Lower Columbia River. He barely uses the GPS, but doesn't need it because he knows the resources better than anyone, however, he does not have the same opportunities in the field we both work in because of a degree.
Two tribes and a University working cooperatively with a University on a data recovery project
Within the last ten years, pre-requisites have grown more specialized educationally and technological. ArcGIS and sub-meter GPS machines have become standard pre-requisites for U.S. federal contracting. Additionally, each field crew is required to have at least a supervisory Master's level archaeologist present 90% of the time and they are also required to author the report. In the U.S., Native Americans are the least likely to graduate high school, go to college, receive a Master's or a Ph.D. Native Americans in college also only represent 1% of the total population going to college and have the highest drop out rates.
So, at what point do the degrees and technology become crutches in anthropology? At what point do they help? How do we, as practitioners in our field, enhance one's Native cultural and linguistic knowledge in order to have the same opportunities as those with the degrees?
Doesn't it make sense that when we consult with tribal people about their traditional knowledge, and in turn advance our careers with the assistance of this knowledge, that those same tribal people be afforded the same opportunities to advance themselves for the betterment of themselves, their people and their resources?.
Native Anthro owner (blue coat on far left) guiding a tour full of tribal members and leaders through a sacred Tribal site. (Photo credit: Tom Keefe)