Bridging the Divide: Indigenous Communities and Archaeology into the 21st Century

By Brown, Steve | Archaeology in Oceania, July 2012 | Go to article overview

Bridging the Divide: Indigenous Communities and Archaeology into the 21st Century


Brown, Steve, Archaeology in Oceania


Bridging the Divide: Indigenous Communities and Archaeology into the 21st Century

Edited by Caroline Phillips and Harry Allen

Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, 2010. ISBN 978-1-59874393-7. Pp. 290. US$34.95 (pbk)

Bridging the Divide is the 60th publication in the One World Archaeology Series sponsored by the World Archaeological Congress (WAC), a series that issues edited selections of papers presented at WAC meetings. Bridging the Divide is an 'outgrowth' (13) of the second Indigenous WAC Inter-Congress held in November 2005 in Aotearoa/New Zealand on the theme of 'The uses and abuses of archaeology for Indigenous peoples'. Over 170 delegates attended the conference--a quarter were Indigenous students or heritage workers from 18 countries, while another quarter were Maori.

From the twelve conference sessions, twelve papers appear in the volume, and of the 15 authors of these papers, five identify as Indigenous. While the volume focuses on Oceania (six papers), it also includes three perspectives from the Americas as well as three big-picture papers.

Harry Allen and Caroline Phillips set the scene in Maintaining the Dialogue (17-48). Their focus is on the degree to which archaeologists and Indigenous communities currently work together, rather than concentrating on conflicts and continuing difficulties (17). Thus, though they discuss how the Indigenous rights movement and the rise of cultural heritage management (CHM) were developments that created the political space for the Indigenous critiques of archaeology (19), they examine issues that hold promise for advancing dialogue between archaeologists and indigenous communities as well as factors likely to impede further dialogue. These factors include:

   ... firstly, the tendency to collapse conceptual categories
   into a set of essential, and hence unresolvable,
   differences; secondly, the proposition of a new
   decolonised methodology; thirdly, the disconnection
   between oral accounts and the material world of
   archaeology; and, fourthly, the role of CHM in relation to
   the conversation and archaeology of significant
   Indigenous places. (28)

I found this chapter an excellent historical overview of changes in archaeological practice with reference to indigenous participation. Allen and Phillips highlight ways in which 1960s and 1970s CHM legislation, influenced by the New (processual) Archaeology, emphasised the precontact material traces of first nations as 'heritage' and in many ways ostracised indigenous people, and more particularly indigenous knowledge, from archaeology's scientific approach to the deep past. They highlight some of the strengths of the subsequent 'humanising' developments in archaeology with regard to issues of politics and social justice as well as archaeology's and heritage management's increasing concern with archaeology in and of the present.

The twelve chapters cover a diversity of topics in a range of styles. Some are written as deeply personal reflections (Bridget Mosley's, Joe Watkin's and Margaret Rika-Heke's are standouts), while others are insightful commentaries on the state of archaeological practice and heritage management in the present day (e.g. Anne Ross, Harry Allen and Caroline Phillips).

A number of issues discussed by the authors cross-cut the volume. First, many of the papers touch on, to varying degree, the ways that archaeology engages with/does not engage with/should not engage with supernatural stuff, the metaphysical aspects of material culture.

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