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common ground

Preservation On The Reservation [And Beyond]
Fall 1999

Online Archive

*  Working for "The Other"

(photo) Grandmother and granddaughter, both members of British Columbia's Heiltsuk tribe.

"Of the 300-plus languages indigenous to what are now the United States and Canada, nearly a third have disappeared. Only about a quarter of those that survive are being passed on to children. [Without intervention] all of these languages will fall silent within the next few decades. "

Teresa L. McCarty and Lucille J. Watahomigie

by Francis P. McManamon

Anthropologists sometimes refer to cultures they've studied as "the Other." Given this fact, it is an interesting development that many archeologists and cultural anthropologists now work for Indian tribes, where they must balance the responsibilities of their jobs with those of their profession. In the late 1970s, shortly after archeologists in large numbers began to work for employers other than universities and museums, questions arose about how such "client-oriented" archeology should be guided. Were the goals of the client or those of anthropology most important?

Anthropologists working for tribes have confronted similar issues. To what extent are they advocates for their employers and to what extent are they disinterested professionals providing assessments and advice?

For my entire career so far, I have advised public agency officials about their responsibilities for the archeological resources in their care. This relationship is not very different from that of archeologists who work for other clients, including tribes. Different clients have different objectives. Public agencies that fund or permit development require advice about their legal responsibilities. They need to know how much archeology they are obligated to do. The archeologists who provide the advice must give these agencies—their clients—their best judgement of what is required.

These "best judgements" must be based on the precepts of the profession. Archeological interpretations are predicated on logic and fact. Professional behavior is guided by ethics that mediate among several issues: the concern for the long term preservation of the archeological record, the benefits that can be drawn from it, and the significance of the resources.

Like those of us working for public agencies, those working for Indian groups must take care to distinguish between advocating for tribal positions and providing professional advice to their clients. The features in this issue offer some examples.

Like all anthropologists, those working for tribes confront situations requiring professional analysis and judgement. Their employers may have uses for the information that differs from what they envisioned. If they want to continue to be employed, they must accommodate such uses, to the extent that they do not conflict with their personal and professional standards.

Anthropology and archeology are imprecise sciences. No mathematical formulas exist to provide unambiguous answers. Methods and techniques are situational, within generally understood standards. In assessing the archeological importance of particular resources, for example, professionals must be aware of current theory and interpretations. It is this grounding in the basics that enables anthropologists who work for tribes to develop flexible approaches to their work and to advise on the best outcome.

Today, anthropological publications and symposia overflow with emphatic discussion of how professionals are "situated" and the cultural context for analysis and decision-making. Granted, such self-consciousness has its value for keeping one on his toes. However, one's ability to evaluate situations from a solid professional foundation remains key to providing good service to one's employer, whatever kind of "Other" they represent.

Francis P. McManamon is Chief, Archeology Program, and Departmental Consulting Archeologist, National Park Service, Department of the Interior.