Respect in an Anthropological Way

So I am a an anthropology major and am currently trying to figure out my focus, in all aspects. I know that I would like to be an archaeologist and I am seriously thinking about the Prehistoric American Southwest as my focus. But I am also interested in Indigenous peoples relations with the non-Indigenous Governments who rule them. This decision to move towards Indigenous studies has lead me to taking classes along these lines and some interesting opinions and views have been brought to my attention.

First off, countries,  like the United States, who owe their success to the help of Indigenous peoples often pushed them to the side. Here in the U.S. we forced them into designated areas and ordered genocide on them. We completely forgot that we would not have survived without the help of the natives. We even broke treaties that protected the rights of the various nations. And even though we realize now how wrong our treatment of them was, there have been limited attempts to right the wrongs. Part of me understands this though, after all how do you go about fixing this? But I’m not here to answer that question. Surprisingly I was lucky enough to hear Chief Oren Lyons speak on these matters. For those who don’t know, Chief Lyons is a world spokes person for indigenous rights and has spoken multiple times in front of the United Nations.

One of the things he said that made me want to fix this relationship between indigenous people and governments, particularly in the U.S., was that it is not just about fixing the wrongs but about teaching each other how to live off the earth in a better way. He could have been bitter about the treatment his people have had but he wasn’t . He wanted to continue teaching those who now live in the U.S. how to live more sustainable lives on the earth. He wanted to teach us how to respect the earth. After all his people were put through, he goes and stands in front of congressmen and women and other political figures and advocates for a coming together of all people. So perhaps the answer isn’t righting the wrongs of the past but forging a brighter future.

Secondly, it was brought to my attention that Native Peoples don’t like anthropologists. This surprised me at first. After all we are all about remembering the past and preserving it to teach the coming generations. But it is often sought after like children who don’t realize what they say and do is wrong. In the search for knowledge of the past we dig up the dead and ignore the knowledge of what the current people have. Many native people have even been told that they know nothing about their own culture. So this makes me question how I will be able to pursue my career in a respectful manner. I believe that I must break through this stereotype.

To do that I must learn the customs of the current culture whose past culture I want to know about. Don’t start with the search for the past, start with a search for the understanding of the present. And to me, do not disrespect the dead. I have always thought that places of rest for ancestors of myself or others are sacred places. They are places that may be looked at, but left untouched. There is a strong taboo I have about digging in graves, which  is not an archaeologists normal view. After all most of the best preserved sites are graves. But to me I don’t think we need to remove the artifacts and bodies to learn the culture. Most of what we learn is from what is visually there not the artifacts themselves, just their presence. So why disturb the dead.

There have been other views brought to my attention but these two are what have stood out in my mind. I think that the key thing I need to remember is that the past is the past and cannot be changed. But, the future has yet to come so treat people with respect and change what people think the future holds. Respect is what is key in whatever path we take. Respect those you work for, and work among.

Note: I am no expert and am simply trying to figure these things out. If you have a different view or knowledge to share on these topics please do so in a kind matter. I mean no offense to anyone if the things I have written are incorrect, and would love the opportunity to learn from you.


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