Friday 24 July 2020

Pitblado and Thomas Claim Collectors' Rights, Dismiss Another Group's Rights

Donna Yates' response to the Antiquity "Debate Article" by Thomas and Pitblado. White Control of Native American Culture can Never be "Responsible Collecting", Anonymous Swiss Collector 23 July 2020.  She also points out, as I did, that the argment offered as some novel approach by the two authors is in fact nothing new at all.
I am not sure how, in 2020, a piece like this can be written and published without any engagement whatsoever with issues of Indigenous rights, sovereignty, and control, particularly when a clear focus of the article is the American Southwest. The authors present the debate as a contentious dichotomy between collectors of ancient material who don’t break the law and archaeologists who paint all those collectors with a negative broad brush because they believe collecting challenges archaeological science. But Native people are entirely absent here. That Native people might object to looting of Native sites, display of Native objects, and the sale of Native culture for reasons beyond archaeological science is not discussed. That Native and non-Native archaeologists might not wish to partner with collectors of Native objects because they think the continued white domination and commodification of Native culture is wrong is not considered a possibility.
This is just one of the areas where, as I pointed out, the authors (while castigating a straw man and imaginary 'other' for not seeing the nuances that the enlightened authors see) themselves fail to see the nuances and contexts of their own position. This is because in stressing the 'public's access to the past' through collecting it and possessing it, another interest group is ignored. And this institutional neglect of these rights is the legacy of colonialism. While British artefact hunters in Surrey have no indigenous minority to worry about when they nick the lithics, that is not the case for the North America in which one of the authors of this hapless "debate article" works, nor the Sami areas of Finland where the other is based. As Yates points out the old collectors' argument "it's legal innit?" fails to apply here too:
what if the law is wrong, not because it blocks we archaeologists from our precious archaeological contexts, but because it forces white concepts of ownership and control onto Native objects located on what should be Native land? Why should we as archaeologists (or humans) accept that because the desecration and commodification of Native sacred objects and places isn’t against a law that was made by and for white people, that the practice is acceptable? Why should we work with anyone who is active in the continued colonization of Native culture just because that working relationship might bring a few archaeological rewards? [...] It is possible for an activity to be totally legal and totally wrong.
This problem arises because the Helsinki Gang and its hangers-on fail to recognise the fundamental truth, which is that the PAS grew out of a specific need in a specific situation in a particular country with a certain legal system and social makeup. All the justifications for it being a 'good thing' (the ones the Helsinki gang use now to get the grant money for their projects) are based on that. It's very dodgy academic practice to try and apply them outside the specific context in which they were created.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.