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Can we be stewards of someone else’s past – especially when that someone else may not be willing to relinquish that role themselves?
Consent in Cultural Resource Management
Archaeology without consent is a violation of Indigenous rights. Free, prior and informed consent is a critical component of respectful relationships with descendent communities. Think about archaeological sites and objects are an inheritance, not a “resource” to be mined. When archaeologists and their clients engage without the consent of Indigenous communities, the risks to those communities are enormous.
Negative findings are often used, implicitly or explicitly, as evidence that a community lacks legitimate connection (and therefore rights) to a place. Positive findings that are interpreted without community input often miss, or misrepresent, the cultural context in which material remains were created, used, and left behind. So results are often described as lacking “significance”, which helps justify the decision that a site may be destroyed to allow for development that’s characterized as having a greater “public good”.
Failing to obtain consent for archaeological work and then doing it anyway is an expression of systemic racism, and the paternalistic relationship that maintains an imbalance of power between Indigenous communities and settler governments and archaeologists. The idea that that archaeologists (overwhelmingly white) are more entitled to decide the fate of Indigenous heritage than Indigenous peoples on the basis of academic specialization is pervasive, and assumes the goal and benefits of a scientific approach to heritage preservation are universally valued.
POINT OF REFERENCE: “Archaeology without consent”
Read the following articles about a proposed archaeological assessment at Oka, Quebec (If you’re not familiar with “the Oka Crisis”, you can get a synopsis here: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/oka-crisis
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