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14.00  Cherokee Archaeological Landscapes as Community Action

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9:00, Monday 6 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

For the past seven years, the Tribal Historic Preservation Office of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and I have built together a program of archaeological research using state-of-the-art scientific methods integrated with educational programs in a way that is respectful of, meaningful to, and directly beneficial to the Cherokee people. The impetus for this project comes from both the desire to build upon previous years of innovative archaeological research as well as to satisfy requests from the Cherokee community, particularly Tribal Elders, for information about their heritage in order to help them negotiate challenges that they face today. 

The conceptual framework for the programs of research and education is relevant to both archaeological and Cherokee knowledge, an example of converging ontologies. From a Cherokee perspective, our starting points are the principles of gadugi, translated as “town” or “community,” and tohi, “balance.” Gadugi and tohi together are cornerstones of Cherokee identity. These seemingly abstract principles are archaeologically detectible: gadugi is well addressed by understanding the spatial relationships of the internal organization of the community, the network of relationships among towns and regional resources, artifact, and ecofact traces of activities, and large scale “non-site” features such as roads and agricultural fields, all elements of landscape archaeology. 

We focus our research on a poorly understood but crucial time in history: colonial encounters of the sixteenth through early eighteenth century. Changes due to warfare, disease, and incorporation in the Atlantic World economic system resulting from entanglement with European colonists were conceptualized as a “Mississippian Shatter Zone.” European colonization was profoundly, violently transformative, launching a program that erased or marginalized a much longer history of Native American political, social, and economic dynamics. The colonial reordering of space, often dressed in terms of civilizing, moral order, created iniquities in power that physically prevented access to resources and segregated people into more controllable, containable spaces for achieving imperial schemes. Colonial powers treated land as one thing and its residents as something separate, objectified, commodified, and thus removable. Colonial schemes involved not just containing residents in new ways through policies of forced resettlement, but also unseeing their very presence by treating land as “wilderness” or uninhabited. This unseeing created a mandate for the colonization of “empty” land that was in actuality the locale of Native American settlements or subsistence, ritual, and other activities. 

A pervasive pattern in the agenda of colonization was to erase Cherokee cultural memory by renaming places that were already established towns. This disconnect continues with a remarkable silence about Cherokee contributions to American history in current education programs. Archaeological research directly contributes to the goal of EBCI leaders to “rebuild the nation” in both a literal and metaphorical way. The research itself is an exercise of tohi, to restore some balance to the current dominance of historical record and broaden regions of research, to balance Anglo history and understandings with Cherokee ones. By taking an approach that articulates the past, present and future tenses of the living landscape, this project critically evaluates the ethics of cultural landscapes, particularly how archaeology plays a crucial role in determining how people experience and understand the landscape and the implications of that knowledge for heritage conservation or transformation. The study of past relationships among people, other living things, and the material environment unveils how they inform life today and presents the opportunity for landscape justice or equitable access to the potential benefits of cultural landscapes and meaningful participation in plans, decisions, and actions regarding them, particularly the specific aspects of cultural heritage to sustain and transmit to future generations. Deploying landscape ethics and justice happens in three stages: investigating the social, material, ecological, and human-ecological relationships, processes, and practices through which a landscape has been lived; evaluating how investigations shed critical light on present-day relationships; and connecting the understanding of the past landscape with public discourse about its future and collaborate on planning for the landscape as it will and should be. Productive planning depends on understanding both the positive and negative elements of landscape relationships and how they came to be. The promise is that understanding the history of positive relationships will help sustain them in the future, while thorough evaluation of negative relationships can help determine how and why they might be dismantled or transformed. The social and political dimensions of interpretive tasks and shared contribution and mutual benefit from interactions encourage archaeologists and community members to be partners in contributing to a powerful understanding of the past and present that strengthens education and community development. 

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