Native Americans, Archaeological Monitoring, and CRMers

How does hiring Native Americans help archaeological monitoringArchaeological Monitoring (v.)­ (1) watching and waiting for a mechanical excavator to reveal an archaeological deposit; (2) a great way for archaeologists to find sites and Native people to reclaim their heritage before development destroys all traces; (3) something construction companies and developers (should) know about but always seem to dislike because they think it delays progress.

Aaaaahhh monitoring. Can there be a more disputed activity within CRM archaeology? Some CRMers love it. Others hate it. Most developers and construction companies do not like archaeological monitoring to say the least.

I’ve felt their wrath as a monitor many times before. I’ve had awesome monitoring gigs, like when we found a late nineteenth century industrial building that nobody knew about buried beneath 25 feet of overburden across the street from Safeco Field in Seattle. And, I’ve had horrible monitoring jobs, like when a client went thermonuclear and started screaming in my face when I asked the backhoe to stop digging so I could see a historical bottle (They were cutting through a historical Japanese worker’s camp at the time. Their project was not delayed and I got to do some rad data recovery at that site. That foreman was removed from the project after his outburst.)

Alan Garfinkel’s recent presentation on about the who, what, when, why, and how of Native American archaeological monitoring titled “Native American Monitor Training for the Tuolumne Me-Wuk Tribal Council” (1/30/2014). Tom King penned a quick response to this presentation on the North American Archaeology Tech Forum that was also loaded with good information.

Garfinkel’s presentation was directed toward Native American monitors that may not be experienced with this activity. It is the kind of presentation I wish I’d had before my first monitoring gig, but it also covers several aspects of CRM for working on Native American ancestral sites. Here are some of the interesting take-aways:

1)  Acknowledging that most CRM firms do not practice authentic form of coordination and consultation: The regs state that consultation is supposed to be part of nation-to-nation dialogue, but there are a lot of CRM clients that believe the CRM firm is supposed to handle this consultation. There ARE quite a few CRM firms that “handle” this consultation; however, as Garfinkel notes, this is usually reduced to a simple letter informing tribes that they have xx number of days to “consult” on any cultural resources within the project area. A tribal letter isn’t really consultation.

Why don’t more firms conduct true consultation? Because it’s hard, it takes time, and is a lot of work. As Garfinkel states, you have to actually communicate with a range of tribal members—giving them time to respond and taking time to adjust your plans. Sending a boilerplate “consultation” letter should be the first stage in a longer coordination, collaboration, and conversation about relevant cultural resources that may continue for years into the future.

Most importantly, consultation involves sincerely sharing information. The CRM clients that are leery of how tribes will respond to their project because are the ones that haven’t taken the time to sincerely talk to anyone at the tribe. A lot of CRM firms tend not to take the time to cultivate real relationships with the tribes in the areas in which they work. So, many times, they have no idea how the tribe will respond. Low-balled projects definitely do not give you the wiggle room necessary to reach out to Native groups for collaboration (Yet another reason why lowballing is so bad for CRM). Tribes have a lot on their plate in addition to protecting their traditional places. Also, tribal governments do not operate like businesses. They have things to do and their own timelines, but they’re not hard pressed to make snap decisions in order to help some company make money.

Finally, why should tribes trust construction companies or CRM firms anyway? Archaeology/anthropology doesn’t have too good a track record of protecting Native heritage (or anyone’s heritage for that matter), so what would motivate a tribe to consult with anyone regarding their cultural places? What do tribes get out of telling us the locations of their traditional sites? Probably explains why they’re not in a hurry to help us with our cultural resources work.

2)  Collaborative CRM requires acknowledging the fact that Native Americans are respected stakeholders—CRM is more than just making clients happy and helping them get their “cultural resources box checked”. Archaeologists have a mixed role in resource management and a number of different groups to satisfy. Native Americans and development clients are just one of many. We are paid for our professional advice, but we are also scholars and professionals that have an ethical duty to do the right thing for the resources and the groups whose heritage lies in these resources. We also have to get paid. These many objectives and obligations can create conflicts and moral dilemmas in the field.

I think CRMers and archaeologists as a whole need to get off our high horse and acknowledge that there is more to our industry than just getting the job done. What we do is highly political and our work effects local people. There are stakeholders outside the client-contractor dialectic. Garfinkel was correct in noting that the CRM industry needs to be aware of how our industry effects Native people and other non-Native descendant communities.

This begins and ends with respect. Respect for other views, for different interpretations, and for the needs and wants of other people. We will go far when we think about others in the same manner that we think about ourselves.

3)  Garfinkel recommends preference be given to tribes that are culturally affiliated with the areaThis is absolutely LANDMARK because it implies that certain ethnicities and racial groups are better positioned to interpret their own archaeological deposits than archaeologists. I’d love to see this extrapolated to the rest of the United States because we all know what happens when archaeologists are allowed to determine significance for resources that they are unfamiliar with. I’d love to see a NAGPRA for non-Natives and mandatory collaboration with local descendant communities.

I’ve seen what happens with historical sites are encountered by archaeologists trained in prehistoric archaeology. All they see is broken bottles and cans. They have a hard time thinking historical sites have the same data potential as prehistoric ones. I’m also guilty of this too. When I come across a lithics scatter, I immediately think, “Somebody made an arrowhead here. Okay. I’ve exhausted this site’s data potential.” It takes me a few minutes to consider the meaning this site would have to Native people who descended from that person who made an arrowhead at that location or to a prehistorian that spent 6 years working on the characteristics of flintknapping for their PhD. These people see things in an entirely different light.

The same goes for all non-Euroamerican sites. That broken down shack may be all that’s left of a Chinese worker’s camp. The non-descript ranch house in a midtown suburb may have been the childhood home of that state’s first Filipino senator. That random can dump with some broken plates may have been the only known transcontinental railroad construction camp in the county.

Guess who is most likely to describe the significance of those types of sites? An American of Chinese descendant that grew up in the area? How about a Filipino businesswoman that went to school with that senator? What about the folks in the run-down little agricultural town nearby whose great grandfather helped build that railroad? Or, do you think the field director who got their PhD on a Roman outpost in France and a business degree from the local after-hours online MBA program is the best person to interpret that site?

Of course, Garfinkel describes the qualifications that the California Native American Commission has for Native monitors. They must be familiar with the particular culture, they need health and safety requirements, need to know the relevant cultural resources laws, and need to know archaeological methods, technique, and theory. Basically, Native monitors need to be Natives that are CRM archaeologists (Which circulates back to the perennial question of how do we get minorities involved in archaeology?) But I continue to be impressed by the results that happen when Native Americans are hired to work on sites created by their ancestors. The interpretations are better and the whole crew learns a lot about Native culture.

4)  Noting that Native American monitors may also be cultural representatives—Again, this parallels my support for monitors of all races, especially ethnic ones. The construction crews and developers you’re working with may never have met a Native before. They may have no idea of unique Native cultural beliefs or any beliefs other than the mediated mainstream American identity. Their whole perspective of Nativeness may come from derogatory stereotypes. The presence of a Native on the crew may do much do crush these negative perspectives.

Working with different ethnicities may be an eye opener for the other lead archaeologists. We all know CRM archaeology is overwhelmingly white, but it is also extremely sheltered in its understanding of the world. Colleges have students from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, but a comparatively large proportion of upper and middle-class Americans go to college. This is the same pool from which archaeology students are drawn, so it makes sense that, although we spent our time studying human cultures, we actually have very little experience interacting with poor people and people of color (NOTE: That was a huge generalization for which I’m willing to get lambasted. Send me an email or comment if you disagree or agree).

I’ve been present when one of my fellow archaeologists gets corrected by the Native American monitor/archaeologist and learns that what she/he was taught about Native Americans in class is incorrect. It is truly a career-changing moment that wouldn’t have happened if the Native co-worker had not been present.

5)  A call for professionalism—This should go without saying but some archaeologists seem to forget that we’re actually paid professionals. Garfinkel makes sure to press the fact that CRM clients expect professionalism: i.e. punctuality, being prepared to work, and knowing the site-specific safety information. These are all points of pride for other industries, but I know a large number of CRMers that do not make an effort to look and act professional while in the field.

Garfinkel focuses on things that many new Native monitors may not know, stuff like having the proper equipment and clothing, knowing the regulations, and not abusing your power by shutting down the project just because you can. I think CRM needs a general push for professionalism among all archaeological technicians, especially temporary workers. Why? Because our clients do not know who is and is not a permanent employee. When they see slovenly, slouching field techs working for the company, they think that’s de rigueur for our whole industry.

Many of us do CRM because we do not want to wear a uniform (i.e. office-style polo shirt and chinos or McDonalds cap and shirt), but we do need to make some sort of effort to look like the skilled practitioners we’re paid to be. We don’t need to show up with a fedora and a bullwhip or a pith helmet and a safari shirt, but we do need to strike a happy medium. I worked for a company that encouraged us all to wear long sleeved oxford shirts with the company logo on them and they gave them out as a gift for passing the 90-day probationary period. The shirts were also passed out to techs that were going to work on extended projects. They had women’s fit shirts as well. I have to admit, the shirts looked pretty faded after a few months in the sun but at least the company made some sort of an attempt to provide gear that marked its crews as professionals.

We can do the same even if the company doesn’t provide gear. Remember: professionals dress for the job they want to have not the job they currently have.

PS: I know it’s a mark of pride for CRMers to wear the same clothes every day while out in the field (including underwear), but that’s one of the hallmarks of unprofessionalism that I’m talking about. So what if you can wear the same pants every day for a 10-day session. Nobody cares if you’re a slob. And, you stink. There’s no pride in purposefully looking like crap, so think about the true reason why you are doing what you’re doing. Who are you really trying to impress?

In sum, the Garfinkel training presentation was a pretty good resource. You can download a copy at Search for Alan Garfinkel.

I want to know what you have to say. Is it a good idea to hire locals as archaeological monitors?

Write a comment below or send me an email.

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