Conference looks at archaeology and indigenous issues

By Angela Nicol

Throughout the last century, the relationship between indigenous peoples and archaeologists was somewhat strained. This year, Chacmool, the University of Calgary Archaeological Association, is presenting Indigenous Peoples and Archaeology: Honouring the Past, Discussing the Present, Building for the Future. The conference will be held at the university from Nov. 11-14, bringing together archaeologists and indigenous peoples from around the world.

"There has always been a tension between certain indigenous groups and archaeologists," said Chacmool President and fourth-year Archaeology student Murray Lobb. "With this conference we hope to facilitate understanding between the groups."

"There needs to be some sort of dialogue, whether it’s controversial, confrontational, or conversational, to allow an exchange of ideas and opinions between archaeologists and the indigenous groups of the world," said Conference Organizer Evelyn Seigfried.

Topics at the conference will include traditional knowledge, cooperation, ownership of the past, and burials.

"We need to sit down together, as a group, and realize that we’re all people with a common goal," said Conference Chair Trevor Peck. "In the past, there have been situations in which archaeologists have come into communities and taken information to use for their own purposes, without consulting the group, and then appropriating it. Finally, these groups will have a voice."

There will be sessions, speeches, and oral and visual presentations from people of many cultures, as well as roundtable discussions. The conference will be opened and closed by Native Elders with a ceremony which will tell the spirits some controversial issues will be discussed, and that no dishonour or disrespect is intended.

"It’s about respect–archaeologists respecting the indigenous groups and their ideas and beliefs in the hope that we can do things right," said Seigfried. "This conference is an opportunity for the groups to tell us the way things should be. We have a lot to learn from each other, and we need to learn how to become friends."
"This conference, while not solving the long-standing problem, will allow indigenous groups and archaeologists to share their opinions on archaeology and its effect on cultures," explained Lobb.

Chacmool expects approximately 300 people to attend, including groups such as Australian Aborigines, Africans, Mi’kmaqs, people from the Blackfoot and Siksika tribes, and Northwest Territories groups.

"The majority of the groups attending the conference are from colonial countries," said Peck. "They know what it’s like to be intruded upon."

Participants have the opportunity to attend two field trips for the conference: one to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump on Nov. 10, and one to the Siksika Nation on Nov. 14.

The cost of the conference is $20 for undergraduate students, $25 for graduate students, and $50 for professional archaeologists. Students are welcome to attend and participate.

Chacmool is also seeking volunteers to help with the conference.

"We’d love to see the participation of the student body," said Lobb.

Students interested in volunteering can visit ES 826 for more information.

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