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Supporting Human Rights in Science

Advancing Ethical Archaeology in Massachusetts

Massachusetts and the MHC were cited as having "the most extreme policy of all 50 states" in treatment of Native American sacred sites (Moore and Weiss, Ohio Journal of Archaeology, fall 2016).

Archaeological and anthropological studies of Massachusetts concern mostly Native American culture and heritage.  Because the presence of Native Americans in Massachusetts spans a minimum of twelve millennia, whereas Euroamerican influence reaches just beyond four hundred years, the bulk of the legacy falls to the first category.  However, Native American narrative, personnel and self-authority are largely missing from the Massachusetts Historical Commission, and Native American self-narrative is also largely missing from professional discourse on Native American archaeology.

As explained by Sonia Atalay, "A noncritical archaeology that is not based on or informed by the experiences and epistemologies of Indigenous people, even if carried out by Native people on Indigenous land, would be, to use Trigger’s terms (1984), a nationalist archaeology – one that seeks to examine a particular Indigenous region or cultural group to contribute to nationalist concerns. . . . "  As well, indigenous epistemology has "relevance outside of Indigenous settings for archaeologists working with local communities, descendant groups, and stakeholders" (2008:30).  We concur with Dr. Atalay in that, "the discipline of archaeology is not inherently good or bad; it is the application and practice of the discipline that has the potential to disenfranchise and be used as a colonizing force" (2008:33). 

Despite being the predominant focus of Massachusetts archaeological study, Native Americans have little presence and almost no control over the running academic and policy discourse on Native American heritage and history.  Native narrative is mostly or entirely missing from state and local government public messages on Native Americans and their legacy.  Native American voices, personnel, cultural advisement and narrative are largely excluded from Massachusetts Historical Society and the dominant, EuroAmerican-controlled archaeology cliques in Massachusetts.

When Massachusetts condescends to include Native Americans, it is through acts of "tokenism," and by outsider appointments of the most undemocratic and non-representational sort.  The Massachusetts Historical Commission and State Historical Preservation Offices as a whole operate as Plato's timocratic dictatorships.  The government arbitrarily appoints an office to represent Native Americans, ironically called the Office of Indian Affairs, in historic echo of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  The Bureau of Indian Affairs began within the War Department as part and parcel of a state-planned genocide, and whose legacy is one of graft, theft, nepotism, betrayal, an array of abuses, divisiveness within tribes, collusion against Native best interests, and mistrust.  Neither the Massachusetts office nor the federal bureau represents any reasonable majority of Indigenous electorate over which they exercise dictatorship.  Thus, the status of "Indian Affairs" in Massachusetts is expropriated and dictated by an exogenous oligarchy that is itself validated by the outsider state. That is to say, a foreign government or power clique has chosen who to include, from whom that foreign power chooses a small privilege group to dictate to all Indigenous citizens. 

The Massachusetts Historical Commission employs entirely or almost entirely non-Indigenous personnel to impose exogenous dogmas on Indigenous cultural, archaeological, and historical properties, as well as intellectual property.  MHC posts and maintains policy statements denying the existence of Indigenous sacred places in Massachusetts, in direct contradiction of, and contravening against, declarations of the 26 federally-recognized United South and Eastern Tribes (USET 2011), the National Register of Historic Places, and a number of other Indigenous tribes and groups.  By force of MHC's refusal to consult, consider, or in any accommodate Indigenous declarations regarding their own sacred places, MHC is expropriating the intellectual and cultural property of races not represented on their staff, of sovereign Indigenous People and nations, and of individual families descended from the makers of and practitioners at Indigenous sacred places.

The exclusion of Indigenous persons and narratives from oligarchies controlling research, policy and legislation on Indigenous cultural, historic, and intellectual property executes a program of epistemic genocide.  The exclusion of all sources Native from all things Native effects a "disappearing act," and results in "erasure" of races and cultures from memory, the landscape, and the historic record (Bruchac 2011:30-36).  Epistemic genocide is the fourth stage of state-sanctioned genocide, preceded by massacre, dispossession, and expulsion/diaspora.  Epistemic genocide is organized and executed by the state through its control of policy, assessment, education, and academic discourse, on all levels of which Indigenous persons are historically excluded and whose absence persists overall, despite recent inroads. Wolfe also notes that renaming and demolition of cultural heritage/physical legacy is a standard strategy of settler colonialist genocide (2006: 386-389).  Manipulation by the state of tribal recognition and assigning of offices to handpicked individuals are further current tools of epistemic genocide.

Intrusion of state political agenda into academia, control of funding, and commercial bed-partnering with extraction industries form a trifecta that gives every motivation to exclude anyone who troubles the status quo.  Meanwhile, the system of archaeology ignores and operates in violation of UN declarations of rights and sovereign authority over cultural legacy to which our nation is signed.

Systematic but silent genocide under a cloak of denial is examined in Peter Wolfe's Settler Colonialism and the elimination of the native (Journal of Genocide Research, 2006).  Wolfe notes in the same study that, "Settler colonialism destroys to replace" (2006:388). The current dynamic in Massachusetts and across the USA is the demolition of sacred ceremonial districts for the purpose of resource extraction, both on public and private lands, wherein the MHC and the Federal Energy Regulation Commission both fail to consult regional tribes with federal recognition, or any Indigenous body, in a timely and consent-based manner.

Trashing of tribally identified ceremonial places, Traditional Cultural Properties, is happening with increased frequency, such as at Standing Rock, but also in Massachusetts, in Sandisfield, and Shutesbury.

Peter Schmidt examines the history of archaeology-as-epistemic-genocide in the December, 2017 issue of the Journal of the World Archaeological Congress (Archaeologies, Peter Ucko Memorial Lecture, Decolonizing Archaeological Practice: Gazing into the Past to Transform the Future, passim).  The policy and processes of imposed exogenous dogmas and expropriated control of Indigenous self-narrative as described by Schmidt apply on all points to the current situation in Massachusetts. 

Dr. Paulette Steeves brings ethics of archaeology home in "Unpacking Neoliberal Archaeological Control of Ancient Indigenous Heritage" (Archaeologies, April 2017:48-65): " Scholars have discussed the use of archaeology and manipulation or denial of the past by nation states to legitimize their power and authority (Fowler 1987:230). Hutchings and La Salle (2015:701) characterize contract archaeology as neoliberal statecraft. I would add that any archaeology that erases Indigenous people’s identities and links to their ancient homelands, and is vested in acceptable social memories that support the state’s oppression of people, is neoliberal statecraft. There are many examples of this on a global scale."  Neoliberal statecraft at the expense of Indigenous cultural, intellectual and historic properties has been the dominant policy in effect for several decades. 

However, Steeves describes currently changing dynamics and steps toward repair:

As the general population’s views of Indigenous people have for the most part been informed through Eurocentric views (Steeves 2015:6), adding Indigenous perspectives to stories of the past is paramount to decolonizing literature and minds. Colonialism is a violent reality (Atalay 2006:282; Panich 2013:110) that transformed and erased identities of Indigenous people, and places; decolonizing knowledge production un-erases them, restoring life to people and communities on the colonialists’ “danger of extinction” list (Steeves 2015, 31). It was not only people and identities that were erased through anthropological knowledge production, their interactions with the land across thousands of years were denied and “worlded” (Spivak 1988:83; Byrd 2011:65) into non-existence. How this was accomplished through archaeology and academia over the last century, and how it is being challenged through Indigenous acts of decolonization, is fast becoming a legacy for academic reflection (Steeves 2015:31)."

MHC persists in a public statement of blanket denial regarding Indigenous stone sacred sites, while the United South and Eastern Tribes stands behind its declaration that the 26 member tribes have utilized ceremonial stone places, both natural and man-made, since ancient times (USET 2011).  In two legal battles against federally recognized tribes and their supporters for historic preservation of sacred stone prayer districts, Massachusetts Historical Commission was overruled on its blanket denial-by-presumption of Indigenous sacred heritage (NRHP 2008 and 2014). In 2015, the Narragansett Officer for Preservation of Ceremonial Stone Landscapes published with Paul A. Robinson an evaluation of a site in Rhode Island called Nipsachuck, where tribal ceremonial stone landscapes are confirmed (Harris and Robinson 2015:138-141).

In the following fall, Moore and Weiss published an assessment of stone features in nearby historic Algonquin territory that validated a majority of relics proposed as Native American ceremonial features (Ohio Journal of Archaeology 2016).  Outrageously, Massachusetts has "the most extreme position" of all 50 states on the matter of sacred stone ceremonial sites (Moore and Weiss 2016: 45).  Moreover, Massachusetts Archaeological Society published in the same fall a detailed, quantitative and cultural assessment of 60 ceremonial stone prayer sites by an Indigenous researcher, which found both statistical and cultural confirmations of Indigenous claims to these ceremonial heritage sites (Cachat-Schilling 2016). These studies rest on a basis of preceding studies that confirm the consistent form, distribution and cultural correlations of ceremonial stone prayer sites across the Northeast and beyond.

Ironically, in the face of all the evidence and vehement declarations by Native American tribal and non-tribal governments and researchers alike, MHC asserts that Northeastern Algonquians were among the only people in the world not to work in stone (aside from San bushmen of the Kalahari, which sand terrain has no stone).  Most known cultures express themselves through works in stone.

MHC also refuses to engage in any discussion on the matter of Indigenous sacred sites, or to comply with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, to which USA is signed.  The U. N. Declaration recognizes the right of Indigenous People to access sacred places and to have the power of authority, possession and consent regarding their intellectual, cultural and heritage properties. 

Regarding self-identification and nationality - an inalienable Human Right according to the U.N. declaration - the state, MHC and EuroAmerican-staffed professional cliques historically manipulate and continue to manipulate identity and representation of Native American, African American, Latin American and other ethnoi.  The "B.I.A. effect" is expressed in Rez Culture anthems against betrayal, nepotism and genocide, for example, in popular recordings from Buffy Ste. Marie in the late 1960's and today in "Working for the Government," joined by scores of Indigenous Youth artists as one of their main targets of social criticism.

The history of who is and is not Indigenous in the USA, and who gets to speak for Indigenous People, is replete with the mechanics of genocide.  In Euroamerican culture, one drop of African blood, makes you "black," while by contrast, dilution makes Indigenous people disappear.  This two-way hypocrisy reveals the arbitrary and reasonless nature of racism and race in America.  Peter Wolfe explains the contrast in terms of European money concerns (African slaves were precious property, thus marking someone as 'Black' made them a commodity and open to claim by Whites, while 'Indians,' after the 1700's, were simply 'in the way' and not claimable; Wolfe 2006:388-384).  Today, who is and is not "Indian" has been ground through a genocide mill of arbitrary federal de-listing of entire peoples - tribes - in total abrogation of U. N. Declaration of Universal Human Rights.  Hundreds of 'tribes' have been de-listed, and all their people are suddenly "not Indian" and also lose their ethnic identity in all governmental concerns.  Absurdly, two divisions of Nipmuc in Massachusetts were given "federal recognition," only to see that stamp of identity rescinded a couple of years later due to a shift of party power (election of Bush Junior).

What we have here is one race telling another race, "You are legitimate," and changing their minds a few years later.  Nothing expresses the non-reality of tribal recognition nor the racial arrogance of EuroAmerican politic more acutely than the condescending 'creation' of a people on paper and its 'annihilation' on paper with a matter of a handful of years, both acts by racial outsiders on another nation.  Racial erasure as a third-stage tool of genocide has deep history in the USA, and Hitler modeled his genocide plan after the BIA methods, as detailed in Mein Kampf.  Hitler also pointed to a eugenics study on Shutesbury, Massachusetts as evidence of "racial degeneration" through miscegenation. 

Massachusetts has an ugly history of eugenics as well, including the harboring of open race-supremacist faculty at institutions like Harvard University and University of Massachusetts.

The net effect of genocide by enrollment, de-listing, Byzantine "recognition" process, and blood quantum selection has disenfranchised the majority of Indigenous ethnic groups from "recognition" and has deprived the majority of Indigenous persons of recognized ethnic identity, nationality, and all rights and privileges that accord with identity.  However, disadvantages of racial identity are not relieved by de-listing and lack of recognition. Skin color, deprivation, intergenerational trauma of genocide, and cultural loss all persist in absence of respect for one's self-identity.

Simply put, no entity within the Massachusetts or federal governments reasonably represents any actual majority of Indigenous individuals living within their borders.  The numerical legacy of genocide means that local legislators do not care about Indigenous people as an electoral voting block, and therefore Indigenous concerns receive little to no effective legislation or discourse.  The downstream effect of no representation and a supremacist expropriation of one's cultural legacy and discourse means that Native American sites of all kinds are continually obliterated without thorough assessment and without preservation efforts.  Contrastingly, white history and archaeology are over-preserved to the point where the Town of Montague, formerly just one part of Mattampash, not only erased its original name, but has preserved no Native sites, while preserving a Colonist cemetery of just three graves at the town's expense. 

Shutesbury, a relatively new town with little history, spent CPA funds to rebuild a cemetery shed with only the main beams as original material, while the same town placed a complete moratorium on all efforts to preserve Native American sacred sites in town, which number over 60.  Similarly, Massachusetts and Trustees of Reservations have preserved no Native American sites, but they have purchased and preserved numerous Colonial properties.

Lamentably, even the American Institute of Archaeologists perpetuates destructive abuse of mostly Native American cultural properties by promoting backward and destructive methods.  Unbelievable as it should be, the AIA motto is three imperatives of action, that begins with "Excavate!"  Excavation of another people's cultural property should properly be only a last resort after remote assessment, contextual research, and interdisciplinary study, and only when the site is threatened with imminent demolition.  We propose however, that imminent demolition of another people's cultural property is a failure of justice and should not occur, except rare case of exigent urgency.

As things are, archaeology and related activities do not comply with or respect United Nations Declarations of Universal Human Rights or Rights of Indigenous People.  The practice of archaeology today, MHC and white-dominated professional cliques do not prioritize the rights of Indigenous people to control authority over their cultural, intellectual and heritage properties; those bodies do not respect Indigenous self-narrative, nor do they represent Indigenous People in their staffing and membership, but they study mostly Indigenous People. 

MHC and others continue to apply destructive methods - "Excavate" - and they continue to impose exogenous dogmas on Indigenous legacy.

Gross lack of empirical methods persists in archaeology to the degree of enabling pseudoscience to propagate and persist within the profession.  Thus, we have the SHPO of Rhode Island declaring a EuroAmerican origin for Indigenous sacred stone groups, and getting away with claiming an undocumented origin, while the supposed EuroAmerican practice "fell out of memory" (Northeast Anthropology 2013) within the few centuries of legacy and within an undisrupted cultural continuum. 

SHPOs get away with denialist conjectures that have no documentation, while selectively ignoring Indigenous documentation at their preference.  This sort of race-supremacist expropriation of cultural legacy began with William Bradford at Nauset (where he decided the Nauset winter stores of food were "provided" by "angels," since "no human hand" could have made such fine baskets.  He ignored the Nauset he saw fleeing into the woods as candidates for ownership).  Racial expropriation of Indigenous legacy continued for two centuries, and is still a popular notion, where every non-Indigenous source possible was and is proposed for builders of the several mound cultures represented from the Northeast to the Midwest to the Southeast and beyond.

Practice in archaeology is stunted by persistence of "good ole boy" networks and elitist exclusivity, where Ivy League kids are usually over-represented and non-whites are always under-represented.  Only recently are truly responsible and truly empirical methods taking hold.  Non-invasive, remote methods are far behind in archaeology compared to medicine and astrophysics.  Empiricism lacks altogether in MHC reports, where conjectures are repeatedly left untested and quantitative inspection of historic features that are being denied is very weak

Clustering algorithms, fuzzy network models, quantization of qualitative characteristics, and other numerical analytics are grossly underdeveloped in archaeology when compared to the more empirical sciences.  Even less are such evolved methods applied on a policy and state commission level.  Sound statistical study in archaeology tends to be the domain of the lonely guy down the hall.

The system needs rebuilding from the top down.  Alongside Indigenous self-authority, other non-European archaeologies need to reflect the progress of science into the 21st century.  Top-down dictatorship of archaeology from a EuroAmerican-controlled state commission that exercises front-page propaganda denial of Indigenous sacred cultural heritage needs to end today.

Introducing truly ethical archaeology to Massachusetts, MEAS will prioritize equal rights, inclusivity, empiricism, and ethics over funding, power and prestige. 

MEAS will prioritize quantitative and remote inspection over invasive seizure and destruction of cultural properties and national heritage.  MEAS will question whether we really need to know before we condone to dig.  MEAS will seek to include the voices of originators in all discourse on heritage and will resist the imposition of dogmas by power cliques, whatever their origin.

Welcome truly ethical investigation and a brighter day.

Atalay, S.

2006   No sense for the struggle: creating a context for survivance at the NMAI. American Indian Quarterly 30:208–310.

2008   Multivocality and Indigenous Archaeologies, in J. Habu, C. Fawcett, and J. M. Matsunaga (eds.),Evaluating Multiple Narratives: Beyond Nationalist, Colonialist, Imperialist Archaeologies, Springer, New York.

Bruchac, Margaret

 2011  Revisiting Pocumtuck History in Deerfield: George Sheldon’s Vanishing Indian Act. Historical Journal of Massachusetts, 39 (1-2), 30-77.  Retrieved from

Byrd, J.A.

2011   The transit of empire: Indigenous critiques of colonialism, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN.

Cachat-Schilling, Rolf

2016   A Quantitative Assessment of Stone Relics in a Western Massachusetts Town, Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society,  vol.  issue  Bridgewater, MA.

2017   Assessing Stone Relics in Western Massachusetts Part 2: Distribution Patterns, in editorial for Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society


Harris, Doug and Paul A. Robinson

2015   The Ancient Ceremonial Landscape and King Philip’s War Battlefields of Nipsachuck, Northeast Anthropology, University at Albany, pp 137-163.
Doug Harris and Paul A. Robinson

Hutchings and La Salle

Moore, Charity and Andrew Weiss

2016    The Continuing Stone Mound Problem, Journal of Ohio Archaeology 4:39-72.

National Register of Historic Places

2008  Decision in re: Kinder Morgan Pipeline and Sacred Hill Traditional Culture Properties District, December 11.

Panich, L.M.

2013   Archaeologies of persistence: reconsidering the legacies of colonialism. American Antiquity 78(1), pp. 105–122.

Spivak, G.

1988   Can the subaltern speak? In Marxism and the interpretations of culture, limits, frontiers, boundaries, edited by C Nelson and L Grossberg, University of Illinois Urbana, IL.

Steeves, P.F.

2015   Decolonizing Indigenous Histories: Pleistocene archaeology sites of the Western hemisphere (the Americas). Jstore. Unpublished dissertation Binghamton University.

2017   Unpacking Neoliberal Archaeological Control of Ancient Indigenous Heritage, Archaeologies vol. 13, issue 1, pp. 48-65. 


United South and Eastern Tribes

2011   SPF Resolution No. 2016:020, February 11.

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