Is There a Place for Anthropology of Native Americans?

Through this course, while the primary focus has been on a historical as well as contemporary and subtopic-based study of Native American societies, we have simultaneously been confronted with the history of anthropological study of Native Americans.  We have seen a transition from early “ethnographic” (if they can even be called that) writings by colonizers and missionaries about Native American people, to full-fledged salvage ethnography as well as anthropologists conducting work for the U.S. Government, to a more apologetic approach, painting Native Americans as victims, and finally, to a more holistic and critical post-modern method of studying Native Americans.  While we certainly have been in a period of critical reflection concerning both the painful history of Euroamerican and Native American interactions as well as of Anthropology, it is incredibly important to continue to examine the role of the Anthropologist in the study of Native American people, particularly because broader American society tends to still hold incorrect and often discriminatory views concerning Native Americans.

After reading the Starn article and discussing with Dr. Lewis, it became clear to me that there is a real necessity for Native American anthropologists in the field, particularly in American anthropology where so much of the field work takes place among Native American people.  I think this approach to anthropology is incredibly important because Native Americans should have the ability to self-represent, particularly in a way that reflects their own ontologies as well as their own form of autohistory.  Fundamentally, a Euroamerican study of Native American groups is limited to the Euroamerican way of thinking, construction of culture, and understanding of anthropology.  A Native American anthropologist has the ability to employ their own worldviews in order to hopefully better represent the groups that they study.  All of this being said, I do think it is important, as Dr. Lewis feels as well, to have a variety of perspectives when conducting anthropology.  The work of Native American anthropologists can be complemented by a Euroamerican perspective, and can hopefully get closer to some conception of truth concerning a culture through these multiple lenses of analysis.

Anthropology’s complicated history with Native American groups often leads to a more apologetic construction of Native American histories and experiences by Euroamerican anthropologists.  I believe that instead of depicting Native Americans as victims in ethnographic studies, it is important for Native Americanists to utilize their unique role as anthropologists to both study cultures, as well as to work to advocate for them.  For example, Dr. Lewis’ work both studies Eastern Band Cherokee economics, but it also works to create a framework through which small business owners in Cherokee can move forward entrepreneurially in order to better themselves and their community.  This type of advocacy should be central to anthropological studies of Native Americans, as it creates some sort of practical purpose for making a group of people the object of a study.

Finally, I believe that anthropology should be used to educate broader American society about Native American societies, in a way that reflects the autohistories and self-representations of these groups.  There is a reason that most children learn about tepees, the trail of tears, and pow-wows, rather than AIM, removal, termination, or the incredible diversity and individual autonomy and sovereignty of Native American cultures.  It is incredibly important, for the future of our country that anthropologists work to construct accurate and culturally relative representations of Native American groups for public education.


Putting a Face to a Name: The Importance of Incorporating Dialogues with Native American Individuals in Classroom Settings

Through our conversation with Mr. Francisco, a member of the O’odham tribe, we discussed many important contemporary and historical issues related to the O’odham people and Native Americans as a whole.  While all of the topics raised during our discussion were certainly important and enlightening, I believe that my biggest take-away from the conversation was simply the ability to put much of what we have learned in class into the context of an authentic Native American’s individual experience.

In class this semester, we have studied a variety of Native American cultures, learned broadly about the trajectory of Native American history particularly post-contact, and have discussed contemporary issues relevant to the Native American experience.  While we have worked to be as culturally relative and responsible in our studies as possible, we have fundamentally been faced with the challenge of studying cultures without being able to discuss our thoughts with individuals from these groups.  Hearing from Mr. Francisco provided that essential experience of actually speaking with and learning from the Native American perspective. Even though we have been able to draw upon works like Nabakov’s compilation, Siuoi’s work, and a variety of articles either written by Native Americans themselves or detailing specific tribal ontologies, it was important for us to not simply interpret these works from our inherent (or at least from my inherent) Euroamerican perspective, but rather for us to gain a clear understanding of many of these complex issues from the view of an insider to Native American culture.

An example of this that sticks out in my mind from our conversation with Mr. Francisco was when we briefly discussed language revitalization.  Because of my linguistic anthropology courses, my belief concerning language and its relation to culture has been shaped by my own academic understanding of language’s influence on thought and identity.  This belief, paired with my study of the Cherokee and Ktunaxa languages and their revitalization efforts led me to naively assume that most Native Americans would have the same relationship to and feelings about their language as individuals that I had previously encountered, such as the Cherokee elder and language teacher, Tom Belt (for him, and many other Cherokee elders, language was seen as the most important factor influencing the future of their culture).  I think that hearing Mr. Francisco’s perspective, particularly his background of attending an Indian boarding school, allowed me to think more holistically about the complex web of factors influencing Native American languages, and to better understand the reality of language loss and revitalization efforts as simply one part of a larger body of issues concerning Native American groups.  Additionally, this truly illustrated for me the variety of experiences of Native Americans in contemporary US society.

This discussion with Mr. Francisco illustrated for me the importance of bringing Native American individuals into the act of teaching Euroamericans about their culture and history.  Learning directly from Native Americans is incredibly important, not only for college students, but for individuals throughout society and the education system, and could therefore be implemented more frequently in public schools.  The benefits of students gaining the perspective that we received from Mr. Francisco would be invaluable, and would intimately inform their concept of what it means to be Native American for the rest of their lives.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: A Case of “Red Face?”

In response to a new comedy series directed by Tina Fey, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” there has been significant criticism.  The show follows Kimmy Schmidt, a survivor of an apocalypse cult, as she starts a new chapter of her life in New York City.  While the show has a fairly diverse cast, including a gay, African American main character and Native Americans in supporting roles, the groups they represent are not always presented in the best light.  While there has been relatively little push-back against the portrayal of the gay and African American main character, the ways in which the Native American characters are depicted has caused significant uproar.

In the show, a blonde, white Jane Krasowski plays a New York City trophy wife whose obsession with money and status is in direct opposition with her alleged concealed past, as a member of the Lakota tribe.  Throughout the show, flashbacks are presented of her pushing back against her “parents,” who are played by Native American actors, Sheri Foster and Gil Birmingham.  While Foster and Birmingham are dressed in jeans, plain shirts, Native American necklaces and earrings and fringed leather jackets, Krasowski wears a fancy pink dress.  Additionally, Krasowski is in no way Native American, and her hair and skin color evidently points to this- there is no way that a viewer would ever believe the narrative that she is Native American with dyed hair.

Foster and Birmingham speak about Native American ways of understanding and being (demonstrating how their daughter has departed from these principles), and at times include “Lakota” words in their discussion with Krasowski, which serve to confirm for the viewer their “Indian-ness.”  Unfortunately, their roles are quite passive as they are merely used to support the back-story of Jane Krasowski’s character.  Krasowski, on the other hand, is portrayed as deeply anti-Native American, and she makes ignorant comments about her given name (Jackie Lynn, which she deems a “cheap stripper name”), about Lakota ways of life and use of buffalo, and about Native American values as she views them as inferior to capitalistic, materialist values found in New York.

Through these depictions, the viewer is supposed to see the “traditional” Native American way of life as more wholesome than that of the wealthy of New York City.  Although this is not necessarily an outwardly intolerant or racist presentation of Native Americans, it does present their culture as static, similar to the idea of salvage anthropology, and does not accurately account for the present day realities of Native American culture as it relates to broader American culture.  Additionally, the appropriation of the Native American image as one that can serve as a convenient, innocent and humble backstory for a now ridiculously lavish character is in poor taste, particularly given the distinct history of Native American people and their suppression by the United States.

While this show is a comedy and pokes fun at a variety of groups, the playing of a Native American woman who desperately attempts to escape her identity by a white actress is controversial.  Although it is great that Native American actors are considered for the parent roles, their lack of screen time and dynamism as characters limits their overall impact.  Additionally, he producer of the show claims that some of the writers/staff members are Native American which led them to believe that they had the authority to toe the line of political correctness, but many critics liken this logic to the “I have an [insert minority here] friend, so that makes it okay” paradigm.

13:40-15:25, Netflix, Season 1 Episode 3,0,b7262201a395030aea51da7fadeed7529e532609:b6c8af9b9c503a315d8aeced00d28b227d822fd1#episodeId=80028214

The Culture Area Concept on Education: Striking a Balance Between Overgeneralization and Causing Utter Confusion

It is clear that K-12 education in the United States is incredibly lacking in its attention to historical and contemporary Native American studies.  Many students are taught stereotypes concerning Native Americans based on geographic region, such as “eskimos” living in Canada and Alaska live in igloos, or most Native Americans residing in the lower 48 states live in wigwams or teepees, wear feather headdresses, and engage in pow-wows.  These conceptions come out of an improper application of the culture area concept of Native American societies by educators, and can be incredibly dangerous, especially considering their ability to shape actions of American citizens.  I believe that to some extent, teaching using the culture area concept makes sense, particularly when working with young children who do not necessarily have the capacity to grasp intricate histories and attributes of individual cultures, but I believe that it is important to combine this more ethnological approach with specific, more historically particular analyses of individual cultures as distinct entities in order to accurately depict the incredible cultural diversity as well as individual sovereignty of Native American people, and to ensure that students do not rely on over-generalized, inaccurate stereotypes of Native Americans as a whole.

For educators, planning lessons, particularly for young audiences, about controversial, often misrepresented topics, such as the Civil Rights Movement or the Trail of Tears can be challenging.  In an effort to make information accessible and resonant for students, teachers risk overgeneralizing to the point of inaccuracy, or overcomplicating to the point of confusion and inaccessibility.  Too often, teachers do not strike this balance, and students leave the classroom with either incorrect oversimplified understandings of Native Americans or a lack of understanding due to the incredible complexity of the subject in its true form.  In order to remedy this, teachers of younger students should certainly draw upon the culture area concept to help students conceptualize a vast area of study that they likely have little prior knowledge about, but they should also provide age-appropriate glimpses into the complexity of individual societies, allowing students to understand the rich cultures that do exist.  With this, it is critical that teachers make it clear to students that although many Native American groups share characteristics, which is logical, they are still distinct autonomous cultures shaped by their individual agency and interaction with their environment and history.

For older students, teachers have the capacity to go into depth when discussing Native American studies.  While this can certainly result positively by crafting mindful, culturally-conscious and active citizens, it also has the possibility of inundating students with false, ignorant or racist conceptions of Native American cultures.  In this case, while I do think the use of the culture area concept is relevant and beneficial to student learning, it should be taught carefully, with constant emphasis on the individual agency of each culture, and the variety of factors responsible for shaping their development.  For example, one could use the culture area concept to discuss Californian groups, but would need to be intentional in capturing the symbolic, environmental, structural, and historical factors that vary from group to group, and are navigated differently be each people.  While the Chumash and the Cahuilla share similarities in their religious structures, they are vastly different in many other ways, but may have a shared history.  Their similarities in religion are in no way due to their current area of residence, and many of their other characteristics can not be generalized as Californian.  Through examples like this, students gain basic general knowledge about Native American groups that exist in different regions of the continent, but also understand the variety of factors that are behind shaping a diverse array of distinct, particular groups within these regions.  Additionally, teachers should strive to provide some in-depth case studies of particular cultures for their students, and should analyze them through their own historical framework, allowing students to understand the incredible and complex histories and contemporary situations of Native American groups.

Without these intentional approaches to teaching students about Native American studies, the future of our nation risks looking similar to its present and past, which are marked by racism, ignorance and apathy toward and about Native Americans, their cultures and their histories.  Using the culture area concept as a framework for teaching can be useful, but should be combined with other theoretical perspectives in order to ensure that students are understanding accurate generalities about Native Americans, as well as the particularity, diversity and complexity of individual groups and their historical and contemporary situations.  Without this education, we may continue to be a country full of individuals and people in power who believe all Native Americans look like Pocahontas, and vanished long ago.

Taking a Step Back: What I Have Learned Thus Far

Thus far in ANT 358, my understanding of Native American people and cultures has expanded drastically.  Prior to this course, my knowledge of Native Americans was limited to my study of the Cherokee people, as well as some pre-historic and historic knowledge I have from archaeological work and courses.  So far this semester, I have learned about an array of cultures, from the Chipewyan to the Cherokee to the Crow, and have not only studied their histories, but have also considered the contemporary states of these cultures, and how Euro American contact has shaped their current status.  Beyond studying individual cultures, I have gained a stronger sense of, as Sioui would say, “Amerindian-ness,” and am able to identify aspects and experiences that unite Native American cultures across the continent.  This understanding is important in that it provides general insight into the Amerindian perspective that is so often not considered in realms such as policy-making, education, or the media.  I believe that the knowledge I have gained from this course will better serve me as a future teacher, by allowing me to accurately teach about Native Americans and contemporary Native American issues, as well as positioning me to consider culturally relative teaching and the Amerindian perspective when I design and implement instruction.

Once concept that has resonated with me throughout the course, is the idea of the “disappearing Indian,” which frankly prevails today as many Americans view Native American cultures as things of history.  I had never before studied Native American conservation efforts prior to this class, and was surprised to discover my own bias preconceived notions of Native Americans as close to nature and environmentally enlightened.  After encountering works like the Hunn et. al article focusing on the Huna Tlingit, the humanity and modernity of Native American groups struck me, and I was forced to confront my prior understanding of them as inherently close to nature as naïve and simplistic.  Our continuous class discussion of the American perception of Native Americans as close to nature, and part of history has been incredibly beneficial, as it forces me to continually reassess my own flawed understanding of Native Americans.

I think one of the most important ways for me to apply my knowledge of Native Americans that is actually within my power is through education.  We all remember being taught false histories of Native Americans, colored by buffalo, tepees, feather headdresses and pow-wows.  As a future Social Studies teacher, I intend to turn these concepts on their heads, and to provide my students with the uncomfortable, complicated, and sad truth concerning Native Americans in our country.  My kids will not just know about the Trail of Tears, Indian Boarding Schools, and allotment, but they will also learn about Cherokee language revitalization efforts and contemporary culture, as well as about why issues like the team name “Redskins,” and dressing like plains groups for Halloween is controversial, and part of much deeper issues.  I think education is one of the most important vectors for shaping the opinions and later actions of people, and by raising students with understanding and appreciation for Native American people will hopefully lead them to make difficult, yet critical decisions on behalf of Native Americans.

Amerindian Environmental Conservation: Myth or Reality?

Although I tend to shy away from believing in universal truths about humanness, I think it is important for anthropologists to consider trends in humanity as a whole when they attempt to answer questions about specific cultures.  In regard to Sioui’s proposal of superior Amerindian environmental ethics, I believe that we should certainly recognize the distinctive aspects of Amerindian culture, but should also consider similarities between Amerindian ways of life and those of other cultures.

One of the most contested ideas concerning Amerindian culture is the concept of Native Americans as conscious conservationists.  Depending on the theoretical lens of the anthropologist, beliefs about the intentionality of conservation range from it simply being a byproduct of small-scale hunting, gathering and farming, to it being an intentional effort tied to the symbolic and cultural importance of the environment.  Analysis of different Native American groups provides evidence in favor of both of these hypotheses, leading me to believe that conservation of the environment by Native American groups varies from culture to culture (as the environment does as well), and in many cases is due to a combination of environmental, socio-political and symbolic factors.

Because of the wide spectrum of circumstances of conservation across Native American cultures, it is impossible to definitively align with one perspective of why conservation occurs.  Instead, it can be useful to examine each individual group’s approach to conservation within its own environmental and cultural framework.  All-encompassing universal truths concerning Amerindian conservation efforts are illusory and improbable, particularly because of the rich diversity of Amerindian environments and cultures, and therefore are largely insignificant when thinking about conservation.

For example, in the Hunn et. al article concerning the Huna Tlingit people and their relationship to their environment, we are presented with the complexity of gull population conservation as a combination of intentional traditional and symbolic practices (for example, only taking a certain amount of eggs depending on the total in the nest), but we also learn of instances where conservation of eggs was relatively unintentional, and only a result of the limited ability of Tlingit people (under certain circumstances, such as the establishment of a wildlife reserve) to collect unlimited eggs.  From this example, and examples from other Amerindian cultures, one can gain insight into effective conservation practices specific to particular environments, regardless of the level of intentionality behind them.

Although intentionality in reference to conservation is important because it allows conservation efforts to be replicated, and for anthropologists and conservationists to distinguish between effective and ineffective conservation efforts, one can still learn about conservation if it occurred unintentionally.  I believe that in attempting to understand the processes behind conservation, regardless of whether these processes were intentional or intentional, one can gain important insight into how to go about future conservation efforts in an intentional way.

Overall, I don’t necessarily believe that conservationism is exclusively an Amerindian trait.  I would argue that humanity as a whole, across time and space, has exhibited in many instances a tendency towards conservation, both intentionally and unintentionally.  Portraying Amerindians as the original conservationists is inaccurate in my opinion, rather, it is important to recognize the cultural and environmental structures that lead to Amerindian conservationism, but is equally as important to draw out these same tendencies among human groups throughout the world and across time.

Tee Pees and Dream Catchers, All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets Hurt: The Impact of Irresponsible and Inaccurate Studies of Native Americans on Euroamerican Worldviews and Actions

This semester, I will be investigating the portrayal of Native American groups in the North Carolina K-12 Curriculum.  I am specifically interested in learning about who specifically designs the curriculum, how the curriculum is taught in the classroom, and eventually, what the kids and teachers take away from these lessons on Native Americans.  Ultimately, what students learn in the classroom has an incredible impact on their worldview, so I am interested in seeing how their perceptions of Native Americans and Native American modern issues are shaped by their instruction.  Additionally, I hope to compare the learning experience of students across generations, but assessing both what students and parents were taught, and how this shaped their worldviews.

I have always been incredibly drawn to issues of race and ethnicity, which I attribute to my childhood in a southern town with a history, as well as a present, marked by segregation, racism, and intolerance.  Growing up, I attended schools located in low-income neighborhoods (or in other words, in East-Winston), where I was technically surrounded by diversity, but actually experienced intense segregation, as all of my upper-level courses were full of upper-income, White students, while the “regular” courses featured low-income, minority students.  I remember feeling confused and unsure about this experience growing up, but I also remember hearing all of the justifications that my peers made about this occurrence.  It was all too often that I heard things like “If they tried harder then they wouldn’t drop out.”  I was familiar with racism and intolerance, but it was difficult for me to see the larger picture, particularly because the situation was so institutionalized.  In my young mind, I felt that this institutionalized racism was just the way school was, and since it was organized in that way, then it had to be for a reason.

Obviously, my views have changed completely from my previous naïve understandings, but I still remember how much I was shaped by my school, as well as by my instruction. While one of my biggest research interests today lies in school resegregation and the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement, my interest in the discrimination of ethnic groups in the US certainly spans beyond Black-White racial tensions.  I am excited for the opportunity to expand my own understanding of Native Americans through this project, as well as to critically consider how I, as a future social studies teacher, will be able to provide my students with as close to the truth about Native American history and present as I possibly can.  It is my duty, as a human being as well as a future teacher to ensure that I share these important truths with as many people as I possibly can, particularly because the consequences of ignorance are so vast.

Hopefully, through my research paper, I will be able to assess the impact of the way Native American history is confronted in schools upon political decisions made by our state.  A simple lesson has the ability to impact a lifetime of perspective, and therefore decision-making, particularly decision-making that affects others.  I will not be surprised to see that many insensitive and inhuman political decisions made regarding Native Americans are connected to the actual understanding of Native Americans by North Carolinians and policymakers, which is often shaped in the classroom.

Amerindians vs. Euroamericans- A Battle of Value Systems

In Georges Sioui’s For an Amerindian Autohistory, he posits that Euroamerican values are largely shaped by Amerindian values, simply because Euroamericans had to adjust to the new world in ways that Amerindians did not.  Personally, I am slightly hesitant to agree or disagree with Sioui’s argument, simply because I am not an expert on the plethora of Amerindian cultures that exist in North America, and would not want to assume that Euroamerican culture is shaped by these values that I personally do not know much about.  I do think, though, that from what I have seen of Amerindian culture (mostly the Cherokee culture), that Amerindian values seem to remain largely untouched at their cores, while outward expressions of culture may be influenced by Euroamerican values.

In the Netsilik culture, there is a significant distinction between “real” Netsilik people and “true” Netsilik people (as noted by Omura).  While Euroamerican culture has certainly left its mark, particularly upon “real” Netsilik people, who perform aspects of Netsilik culture but live by Euroamerican values, “true” Netsiliks live by what it spiritually and mentally means to be Netsilik.  In this example, while Euroamerican culture has certainly influenced the clothing that the Netsilik wear or the types of transportation that they use, it has been unable to completely destroy the Netsilik way of being.

Like the Netsilik, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee also have a clear understanding of what it means to be a true Cherokee.  This way of being is integrally tied to the Cherokee language, and has driven many concerted efforts to revitalize it.  Additionally, while Cherokee people in North Carolina wear contemporary clothing (for the most part), speak English, and interact with mainstream culture, for the most part, they live according to Cherokee values and ideals.  Unfortunately, this preservation of Amerindian values is certainly not across the board, and therefore I believe that it is incorrect to assert that Euroamerican values have not influenced Amerindian values.  I believe that this sphere of influence and cultural exchange lies on a spectrum, with generational, historical and cultural factors dictating the extent to which values shift.

If asked, many Americans would likely be unable to point to aspects of their value system that have come from Amerindians.  I, too, have difficulty assessing my own culture, especially because I am not an expert on Amerindian values, or values held by pre-colonial Europeans.  Regardless, it is evident that Euroamerican culture is distinct from European (Anglo) culture in many ways.  The values of our governmental system, and nation as a whole, largely reflect egalitarian values held by Amerindians.  I would also argue that to some extent, that values of environmentalism, while not entirely fully-formed or upheld by Euroamericans, have their roots in Amerindian culture.  While I cannot point to many examples, I do believe that the presence of Amerindian cultures throughout North America has influenced the fabric of America, particularly in how it has developed historically (i.e., what would have happened had the continent been unpopulated?).

Sioui’s argument certainly fights against the prevailing Euroamerican concept of Native Americans as victims lacking agency.  I have seen repeatedly, in my own studies of Native American contemporary and historical culture, as well as during my time in Cherokee, NC, that Amerindian cultures are incredibly complex, vibrant, resilient, and constantly changing.  It is clear to me that while Amerindian cultures have gone through incredible hardships by the hands of Euroamericans, they have been able to, at their core, maintain their values to this day.

Who Am I, And Why Am I Here?: Reflections on my previous understandings of Native American societies and cultures, and how I hope to change these views.

Growing up, I was presented almost solely with the familiar, diluted, and frankly inaccurate narrative concerning Native American societies and culture, that is experienced by so many contemporary Americans.  I spent a week in second grade cutting up old t-shirts to resemble appropriated Native American dress, making feather headdresses, and learning about tepees.  Granted, my third-grade memory is flawed, and there is a perfectly fair chance that my teachers taught me something much more substantive than how to crumple pieces of brown paper until they resembled deer hide.  That being said, the fact that I can recall nothing but these fundamentally incorrect and offensive representations of Native American societies and culture demonstrates to me, that regardless of the intent, my childhood education concerning Native Americans was ineffective.

Beyond this education that barely began to scratch the surface on the fascinating and rich cultures and traditions of Native American people, my views of the topic were also shaped at home.  Both of my parents grew up in Idaho and were certainly familiar with at least some version of Native American history, particularly because they were raised nearby local reservations.  Additionally, my grandmother is part Native American, and lives in a home filled with various artifacts, pieces of jewelry, pottery, etc.  Unfortunately, she no longer has ties to her culture as details of her tribal ancestry have been lost due factors of time, recordkeeping and stigma.  From my family, I certainly gained a higher level of respect for Native American societies than was taught to me in public school, but I still experienced a sort of partial history, one that is separate from “White” history, and one that omitted the agency central to the Native American experience.

I sought to learn more about Native American societies and the Native American experience through the many Anthropology courses I took at Wake Forest, including Archaeology, Cultural Anthropology, Cherokee Language, an Archaeological Field School, Language and Education, etc.  After each subsequent course, my view of Native American societies shifted and broadened, which lead to an intense interest in the Native American experience in the contemporary United States.  One of my most memorable experiences in this realm was my visit to Cherokee, NC, this past semester with Dr. Bender, during which I was able to listen to Cherokee (or Kituwah) elders discuss the importance of their language to their cultural experience.  I am personally incredibly interested in language, especially in the vast linguistic diversity that exists in North America, but is so often overlooked due to an overwhelming societal ignorance of this land and its peoples’ history.

It is so important for Americans and Canadians to study and truly understand Native American (or First Nations) history, as this understanding holds the key for us as a collaborative society to move forward in productive, sensitive and nurturing ways.  Additionally, as with the treatment of many other disenfranchised and historically abused cultures, while it can be uncomfortable and difficult for the dominant culture to analyze its own complex and flawed history, it is imperative that Native American societies are afforded the respect they deserve, and that the American community addresses the injustices both of the past and the present.

I am taking this course to build my own understanding of Native American societies and cultures, so that I can serve as an advocate for these groups, and also contribute to disseminating and teaching a correct, fair and vibrant account of the past, present and future for our nation’s many Native people.  I hope to become a teacher, and am tasking myself with crafting socially conscious and active students who are not limited to the narrative of pipe-cleaner feather headdresses, Pocahontas, and tepees.  I know that this course will serve as a foundation for my continued effort to educate myself about Native American cultures, particularly contemporarily, so that I can then educate others in an accurate and culturally-sensitive way.

Importance of Interpretation to Anthropology

Prior to Student-Faculty Seminar, my knowledge of anthropological theory was limited, and basic at best.  I had learned about structuralism and functionalism in Cultural Anthropology and Archaeology courses, but had not been exposed to the many other theories that exist within the discipline.  I now can recognize and appreciate the importance of theories as means to interpret anthropological work, and intend to use them to interpret my own research project during this semester.  Without applying theory, I am essentially just presenting information, or findings, without a greater focus.  Application of theory will allow me to contribute an insightful claim about humanity, rather than raw data.

In Dr. Clark’s module, we saw the importance of interpreting data.  In this module, groups examined two different cemeteries, and used data collected from random samples to determine age, sex, ethnicity, religion, etc. of the deceased.  When we analyzed the data, there were clearly stark contrasts between the two cemeteries, particularly in the realm of ethnicity/socio-economic class.  While analysis was useful in that it provided us with this important information, without interpretation and application of theory, we were unable to make a nuanced claim about why these cemeteries were structured in this way, and what this meant for these cultures, or humanity as a whole.  In retrospect, we should have explicitly considered theories such as Marxist theory, postmodern theory, structuralist theory, etc. in order to see which, if any (or a combination) fit with our results.  This interpretation would have allowed us to answer the “big so-what?” about our research.

In Dr. Jones’ module, unlike Dr. Clark’s, it was specifically geared toward interpretation, and even had us consider specific theories ahead of time as a class.  The groups in this module did a similar project to that of Dr. Clark’s assignment, and researched multiple cemeteries in Winston-Salem.  Beyond simply collecting and analyzing data, they sought to find the theory or theories that worked best for their results, in an attempt to contribute a more significant claim about humanity.  This approach was more effective than the pure analysis of results in that it allowed this work to contribute to a broader theoretical narrative.

In my project, I will work to interpret my own results in a way that allows my findings to be theoretically aligned.  I will use the methods that we developed in our module presentations, including collecting research, analyzing results, and then interpreting this analysis through the lens of theory.  I will not solely consider my work through the framework of one theory, rather, I will test multiple theories to see what can and cannot fit for my analysis.  I hope that this application of theory can help me gain useful insight into the reasoning behind socio-economic/racial differences in mortuary practices, and the implications that this has for our culture as a whole (what the theory demonstrates to us about Winston-Salem culture).

In the future, knowledge of anthropological theory will be highly beneficial.  Not only will I have the “anthropological perspective” through which to view the world, but I will also have the ability to consider the world from a variety of different theoretical vantage points.  This will be incredibly useful when problem-solving in culturally diverse settings, particularly within the classroom.  An ability to interpret the world around me using theory will serve me far beyond my work as an anthropology student.