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This type of thinking reifies colonialism

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This type of thinking reifies colonialism

Robert McGhee, Curator of Western Arctic Archaeology at the Canadian Museum of Civilization American Antiquity 73(4) 2008. “ABORIGINALISM AND THE PROBLEMS OF INDIGENOUS ARCHAEOLOGY” http://www.unl.edu/rhames/courses/current/readings/McGheeAmAnt08.pdf

Amore important outcome of the legitimization of Indigenous archaeology lies in its reinforcement of stereotypes of Indigenous uniqueness. Wax (1997:53) has identified the problems caused by the ease with which Native American leaders find political leverage in presenting themselves to the world “as passive and abused ‘noble savages,’ torn from the mythic wilderness of the ages of European exploration.” Sahlins (1995:119) notes that academic efforts to defend Aboriginal ways of life by “endowing them with the highest cultural values of western societies” have the paradoxical result of “delivering them intellectually to the imperialism that has been afflicting them economically and politically.” In preserving and maintaining this essentialist self-image, they encourage perpetuation of their public stereotype as Primitives, as a special class of human who will always be marginal to the dominant culture and society. The demands for Indigenous archaeology do not arise in response to an intellectual problem but, rather, from the emotions and political reactions of scholars to Aboriginal communities that are socially and economically marginal, and that conceive of this situation as the result of historical mistreatment at the hands of Western society. Nicholas and Andrews (1997a:12) feel that “As archaeologists and anthropologists from a dominant society, we have an obligation to contribute to the well-being of First Peoples.” Such a reaction is indeed admirable, if very patronizing. Any community must find means to alleviate the misery of its most marginal members, and archaeology’s association with the heritage of such peoples is a profoundly political engagement. However, archaeologists must recognize that by using the authority of their discipline as a means of advancing causes based on assumptions of the unique needs and capabilities of Indigenous peoples, they risk following the trail blazed by ancestral anthropologists who first established Aboriginals as a special category of humans. This academic concept was to prove extremely useful in the theory and practice of colonial administration, generally to the detriment of the peoples administered. In conspiring to believe in the paradigm of Aboriginality, and in reinforcing it by providing historical justification, archaeologists are complicit in maintaining the intellectual conditions under which poor and marginalized Indigenous societies can continue to exist into the future. Rather than abetting such tragedies, we might emulate Kuper (1988:243) in hoping that “although certain things have been done badly in the past, we may still aspire to do them better in future. ... If we liberate ourselves, we may be able to free others. Anthropologists developed the theory of primitive society, but we may make amends if we render it obsolete at last, in all its protean forms.” Archaeologists can make an important contribution to this goal by exposing the myths of stable enduring societies on which the idea of the Primitive or the Aboriginal is founded.

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