|I took this photo during Sonya's lecture at the Niles District Library.|
Monday, July 24, 2017
Thoughts on a moving lecture...
Quick introduction, my name is Crystal and I attend Western Michigan University. Last semester I was in search of a worthy educational adventure, and Dr. Nassaney assured me that the Archaeological Field School at Fort St. Joseph was exactly what I needed. Honestly, I was unsure about committing to the project, until Dr. Nassaney gave a lecture on challenging dominant narratives. After Sonya Atalay’s lecture yesterday evening, I was officially invested. She spoke about going to research a Neolithic site in Turkey and shared how she was troubled by the absence of a Native narrative. Then, she discussed how she was moved to involve the community further.
I am a person of many colors and I was
disinterested in being a part of a project that neglected to acknowledge
minorities' importance in history. But, I found by participating in this
project we could be a part of a forward-thinking movement. Here and now, we can
pressure this project to engage Native communities. We can become a mechanism
to mobilize knowledge and correct incomplete histories. My public education
taught me about Christopher Columbus and how he has been memorialized as the
discoverer of the New World. This dominant narrative effectively ignores that Europeans
were catalysts for genocide of indigenous people. Chances are your public
education taught you a dishonest or incomplete history through textbooks and
curricula compiled by the victors—mostly white men. The pervasiveness of these myths
in the public schools and the damage they do gnaws at me constantly. This
motivated me to develop three goals for myself this semester. The first is to learn a holistic, scientifically derived
narrative. The second is to consistently be thorough, inclusive, and honest in
all observations and analysis. Finally, I hope to ensure that this
archaeological project is held accountable for what and how they educate the
Sonya Atalay shared how she has fought for decades, on a global and national scale, to ensure archaeological projects were morally inclusive. Testimonies of her battles as a social justice warrior made me sensitive to the complexities of community-based participatory research at Fort St. Joseph. I have expressed my concern about Native American absence in the community involvement regarding our archaeological dig. Dr. Nassaney updates me about his efforts, and I am deeply grateful that he hears and addresses my concerns. It’s clear to me there is no villain—and there shouldn’t be. Sonya said something to the effect of, the hardest part of trouble shooting community-research partnerships is sitting down and communicating. Sonya’s stories about Native peoples fighting against highly respected universities for their ancestors’ remains and “grave goods” enlightened me. Native peoples in America are wary of universities’ research agendas, in my opinion rightfully so. And I hope we can remedy that distrust. I hope we can move forward, combine our systems of knowledge, and spread our collaborative knowledge.
After reading Dr. Nassaney’s article, “Decolonizing Archaeological Theory at Fort St. Joseph, An Eighteenth-Century Multi-Ethnic Community in the Western Great Lakes Region,” I knew there was a strong scholarly interest in mobilizing a holistically derived narrative. Dr. Nassaney’s article breathes eloquent honesty and effortless inclusion. His work also informed me that scholarly interpretations of Fort St. Joseph acknowledge cultural amalgamation as opposed to the previous dominant narrative of cultural cleansing.
Currently, we know there is archaeological evidence of Native American culture on the other side of the St. Joseph River. I am itching to uncover more artifacts that express cultural blending and cultural interdependency at Fort St. Joseph. As a result of community based archaeology, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi have veto power, and they have asked us not to disturb their buried culture on the other side of the river. Sonya sharing her complicated relationship with Harvard and the University of Michigan gave us the insider perspective. Traditionally Native epistemologies were not regarded when investigating academically motivated research questions. In Niles, Michigan I see an opportunity to show Native People we genuinely want to share the benefits of knowledge production.
It’s amazing that here in Niles, Western Michigan University is experimenting with not only the advancement of knowledge—but with the advancement of the production of knowledge. Sonya’s stories are telling of the obstacles this project may face. But, I truly believe braiding knowledge will produce the most holistic scientific discoveries.