Friday, October 12, 2007

Network of Concerned Anthropologists: Online Pledge

Thanks to Prof. Roberto Gonzales of the NETWORK FOR CONCERNED ANTHROPOLOGISTS for informing us that an online pledge is now available at:

This is part of the effort to counteract the drafting of anthropology into counterinsurgency efforts.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Senate Panel Revisits Kennewick Controversy, Sides with Tribes

Senate panel OKs bill that could return Kennewick Man to tribes

RICHLAND, Wash. -- A U.S. Senate committee has approved a bill that could allow American Indian tribes to claim the ancient bones of Kennewick Man, a 9,300-year-old skeleton found on the banks of the Columbia River in 1996.

This is the third time a change has been proposed to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The change would ensure that federally recognized tribes could claim ancient remains even if a direct link to a tribe can't be proven.

The act governs the control of American Indian skeletons, requiring museums and federal agencies to return them to tribes if there is evidence that links the remains to the tribes.

This latest two-word addition tucked inside a bill to allow tribal participation in methamphetamine grants, among other things, would expand the definition of what remains are considered ancestral. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee approved the bill last week.


Anthropology's Dirty Little Colonial Streak?

In good times it might appear to be a minor streak; at other times it is a big, broad swath. The coloniality of anthropology might be something hidden and obscured by the passage of time, perhaps seemingly esoteric; at other times, such as the present, anthropology's role as an instrument of empire can come back into sharper focus as an inherent problem of a Western way of knowing the world (at other times, anthropology might simply be an amusement of empire). This is of course not meant to paint most, let alone all anthropologists as sinister figures. Yet, we have to admit that imperialism is a significant feature of a "discipline" that was made possible by colonial expansion and where once again anthropologists can find profit from imperialist missions in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq. When this is added to the chorus of voices in anthropology that would like to diminish indigeneity, that disputes the very concept "indigenous," that refers to the struggles of the colonized for rights in terms of "seeking special rights," and that lords over indigenous physical remains as if other people's bodies (specifically colonized bodies) were the natural property of anthropology--then it is no wonder that this "discipline" (the martial severity of this terminology is indicative and fortuituous in this case) continues to be banished from most universities in the "decolonized" world.

It is also no wonder that numerous programs have been spawned in universities that some anthropologists indignantly criticize as attempts to expropriate their discipline's cherished subject matter, programs such as Cultural Studies, Ethnic Studies, and numerous Native Studies, American Indian Studies, Indigenous Studies, and First Nations Studies programs. Why should native communities receive anthropologists who wish to "study" them when anthropology is still fighting with its own colonial heritage, and when some anthropologists seem to have enlisted in the John Howard School of Anthropology? (I am using the figure of right wing Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, whose aim is to force Aboriginals into the white Australian "mainstream" where nobody is to be deemed different or "special," no matter how much shorter their lifespans, or how much greater their poverty, or how different their languages and social relations may be, and in spite of the fact that ideas such as "Australia" can be read as synonymous with invasion.)

What prompted this seemingly sudden outburst of critical self-reflection is the growing number of media reports of anthropologists participating in counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. See for example: "Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones," by David Rohde, in The New York Times, Oct. 5, 2007. Some anthropologists are volunteering to take part in what the American military calls "Human Terrain Teams," and once again the terminology tells us something: a conceptualization of a "field" as an object of surveillance and occupation. (See a New York Times video on Human Terrain Teams--Cultural Anthropologists in Afghanistan). Beyond this particular issue, it is surprising that anthropologists, myself included, can so easily resort to talking about "fieldwork" with little in the way of conscious examination of the "scientistic" and colonialist connotations of the idea. Indeed, an Australian anthropologist who helped to devise the new military strategy, David Kilcullen, approvingly calls counterinsurgency "armed social science" (see his articles on anthropology and counterinsurgency in the Small Wars Journal). Montgomery McFate, an anthropologist who has advocated "embedding anthropology" in military missions seems to dismiss critics who say this is militarizing anthropology: "we’re really anthropologizing the military." Wonderful. And what is the military doing "over there" again? Marcus Griffin, who muses on "Of What Use is Anthropology?" defends the participation of anthropologists in these Human Terrain Teams.

It turns out that this latest New York Times article is just the tip of a growing body of information--see for example:

In this climate, and with this historical baggage, anthropologists will have to work even harder (after decades of "decolonizing anthropology") to challenge the perpetuation of a fairly accurate image of a discipline that is probably the "whitest" (broadly conceived) of all the social sciences in terms of the composition of both its students and faculty. After years of my own complaints at how "unfairly" anthropology was portrayed in some quarters as an Ugly White Colonial discipline, I am tempted to silently acquiesce.

Arrested for Protesting Against Columbus


Columbus Day protest in Denver leads to arrests

Saturday, Oct. 6, 2007

DENVER (Reuters) - About 75 protesters, including American Indian activist Russell Means, were arrested on Saturday after blocking Denver's downtown parade honoring the Italian-born discoverer Christopher Columbus, an event they denounced as "a celebration of genocide."

Police loaded protesters onto buses after they refused orders to disperse. Most will be charged with obstruction of a roadway or disrupting a lawful assembly, Denver Police Lt. Ron Saunier said.

Police delayed the parade's start for more than an hour as they tried to head off confrontations.

American Indian groups and their supporters have disrupted the city's annual Columbus Day parade every year for nearly two decades, leading to clashes with Colorado's Italian-American community over the century-old celebration, the longest-running such commemoration in the United States.

Columbus Day, marked this year on October 8, is an official holiday for most U.S. federal government workers, many public schools, state and local agencies and the U.S. bond market. It recalls the October 12, 1492, landing of Columbus in the Americas on his search for a naval route to India, an event that spawned an era of European interest in the New World.

Means, talking to Reuters before his arrest, said Columbus was the "first trans-Atlantic slave trader" after landing in the Americas in 1492. He said Columbus started centuries of oppression of native peoples.


American Indians confront UC-Berkeley over remains

From The San Francisco Chronicle

Native Americans ask UC Berkeley to return museum artifacts

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Native American groups rallied Friday at UC Berkeley in an attempt to get campus officials to allow them to return thousands of museum artifacts to tribes from California to Alaska.

A group that included university staff and tribal representatives used to decide which items must be returned to the tribes, but a reorganization at the Hearst Museum put museum staff members in charge, and tribal leaders say the new configuration shuts them out.

The move comes as increasing numbers of tribal leaders, using a law approved nearly 20 years ago, try to get possession of human remains and cultural artifacts.

After an hourlong noon rally - during which they extolled the virtues of relinquishing to tribes the remains of 13,000 Native Americans stored at the museum - the 200 protesters marched from Sproul Hall to campus administration offices where they demanded to meet with Chancellor Robert Birgeneau.

Assistant Chancellor Beata FitzPatrick emerged briefly from California Hall to assert that the university is abiding by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.


Anthropology and Indigenous Sovereignty

From The Seattle Times:

Anthropology: the great divide

In the fall of 1996, anthropologist Richard Jantz e-mailed fellow scientists with a plea to help save history.

The University of Tennessee professor urged colleagues to challenge the federal decision to give the 9,300-year-old remains that became known as Kennewick Man to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla for burial. In Jantz's view, the Army Corps of Engineers was about to slam shut a critical window into America's past.

In Seattle, archaeologist Julie Stein read the e-mail with disdain. She had had enough of the ham-handed handling of the unusual case of the remains found on the shores of the Columbia River in southeastern Washington. Then-curator of the Burke Museum of Natural History, Stein had spent 14 years studying Washington archaeology and building relationships with local tribes.

She fired back, chiding Jantz for the effort and alleging the Benton County coroner's local consulting anthropologist, who collected the remains, had attempted to mislead the tribes and the corps by saying they belonged to a recent European settler. She also noted hand bones were submitted for carbon-dating without proper consultation with tribes.

"This is an example of why every tribe in the United States should mistrust and detest archaeologists," she said. "This write-in campagne (sic) of yours is targeted toward the wrong individual.

"Disgustedly yours, ... " she concluded.

Neither Jantz nor Stein knew it then, but the Kennewick Man case would gain international renown — and its accompanying controversy would highlight not only the conflict between principals of scientific inquiry and tribal sovereignty but also a deep professional divide within American anthropology.