ANTHROPOLOGISTS AND NATIVE AMERICANS:

COMMENTS ON
M. ESTULLIE SMITH'S
"SOUTHWESTERN STUDIES:A VIEW TO THE FUTURE"

19711
HUMAN ORGANIZATION
30(4), 430-431

BY
JACK D. FORBES


(NOTE: THIS MAY HELP TO EXPLAIN WHY I DID NOT RECEIVE A MERIT INCREASE FOR MANY YEARS.
BUT THOUGHT THAT WE WE WERE ALL SEARCHING FOR TRUTH!)

 

I find Professor Smith's article both valuable and stimulating and when I disagree it is more with what is not said than with what is said. Neither Vine Deloria Jr. (Custer Died for Your Sins) nor Professor Smith have in any way come close to expressing the negative manner in which many Native Americans perceive anthropologists nor have they probed, in any depth, ways in which anthropology has, and still does, serve as a part of EuropeanAmerican imperialism and exploitation. One can, of course,, cite the many individual anthropologists who have become deeply involved in real friendships with Indians and a smaller number who have consciously utilized their expertise to help Native Americans realize native-determined goals. On the other hand, an equally strong, if not stronger, trend runs in the direction of colonialism. I would like to briefly cite some examples which are pertinent today:

1. The archaeologist, even when dealing with sites related to a living native people, generally does not believe that the people in question have any moral or legal right to protect the graves of their ancestors or buried artifacts, nor does he believe that the recovered materials belong to the Indian people. The archaeologist* or some white-controlled institution# assumes the right (subject to state or federal law) to excavate when he pleases and to appropriate the artifacts without regard to Indian considerations. Archaeologists argue, correctly, that U.S. laws have not been interpreted so as to recognize any Indian ownership rights over most Indian cemeteries, village sites,, religious shrines et cetera* What we must consider, in an ethical sense however is that Indians can. not legally and physically protect their cemeteries, etc. because they are a conquered people, usually deprived unwillingly, of control over their former homelands. It is significant that archaeologists in the U.S. do not choose to excavate white cemeteries (in spite of a 300+ year timedepth in which to study physical and cultural change), except under rigidly controlled conditions, with terms usually being set by the owner of the site (whether a private or public owner) .

2. Neither archaeologists, ethnographers, nor linguists have ordinarily seen fit to prepare their synthesis in such a manner as to be useful to the concerned Indian people. The material is "written up" in such a way as to fit European cultural categories and# specifically, the value sys. tems of white anthropologists. For example, a linguist may prepare an entire volume of textual material in a native language, after having imposed many hours of burdon upon informants. This textual material would often be very useful in native education or individual reading, except that the alphabet used is unreadable to the layman and (usually) no key is provided. Finally.. the linguist may never provide copies of the material to the people in question or concern himself with its dissemination to Indians.

3. Ethnologists have made films of native culture without ever providing a copy of the film to the people or even arranging for a showing of the film in a local school or meeting-house.

4. Products (such as a film or book) which may have a decided, even crucial, impact upon the future status of a people (such as a film which may be shown in public schools# or a book which may be widely read by teachers) are all too frequently released without proper screening by an appropriate native panel. Of courses the scholar may plead "academic freedom", "professionalism", et cetera,, but# in my opinion, it makes good scholarly sense to have material reviewed by "experts". More significantly still, when the scholar produces an item which, by its nature, is going to have a public impact, he has removed himself from the "ivory tower" and entered the arena of public affairs. He may be legally free to do as he pleases, but ethical questions can be raised, especially since Indian people, as a relatively "power-less" people., generally lack the access to the media to defend themselves from denigration* subtle or otherwise.

A recent case in point is the Smithsonian Institution's current preparation of a new handbook on Native Americans without the creation of any formal mechanisms for Indian policy review of the projects either at the national, regional or tribal level.

5. Anthropologists in the applied and educational subareas have frequently cornered research funds which would have best gone to Indian-controlled projects and, more seriously, have established elitist-colonialists agencies for "social engineering" purposes. For example,, anthropologists have been heavily involved in the management of the Bureau of Indian Affairs since 1935, as well as the U.S. Public Health Service, state Indian Affairs agencies, private "Rand D" organizations, university research. action centers., et cetera, involved in the making of decisions for Indians by non-Indians.

Anthropology is thoroughly pervaded by an unthinking ethnocentrism which is all the more shocking because of professed "objectivity". Many will, of course, object to such a strong statement but one final example should suffice to illustrate the use of Indians as "objects": the re-naming of Indian groups by anthropologists (or the perpetuation of offensive, foreign names) as well as the invention of new names (at will) for villages sites, language families, er ceterap without ever consulting the concerned people or, at least, using a name logically derived from the languages in question (e.g. the use of Athapaskan instead of Tinne or Dineh-an).

Jack D. Forbes, Ph.D.
Trustee, Deganawidah-Quetzalcoatl University
Davis, California