[R-G] Anthropology and anthropologists -- and an Amazon situation [attached article]
hunterbadbear at earthlink.net
Sun Mar 31 13:52:50 MST 2002
Note by Hunterbear:
A few thoughts on Anthropology and anthropologists -- and then a profoundly
disturbing contemporary article.
The relationship between anthropologists -- those of "the study of man" --
and Native Americans has frequently been fraught with tension. This has
been especially true when the anthropologists have been Anglo. In his great
biting classic book of thirty-odd years ago, characterized by some
exquisitely set forth Indian humor -- Custer Died for Your Sins -- the
Sioux lawyer and writer, Vine Deloria, Jr., spends a fair amount of critical
time on this particular component of the social sciences. And one of the
most enduring songs by the great Sioux singer, Floyd Red Crow Westerman,
deals caustically with "the anthros, coming like death and taxes to our
These criticisms by Vine and Floyd are very well taken. It's been my sad
lot to have occasionally been forced into intra-academic relationships with
Anglo anthros whose careering and condescending attitudes and practices have
been, to state it gently, a long and bitter drink for myself -- and for my
other colleagues and students, Native and otherwise.
I've been among a good number of Native academician/activists who have
publicly challenged some Anglo anthros on key issues. An interesting
example of this is the "research" of Christy Turner II who, in his
remarkably twisted and defamatory published work of several years ago, Man
Corn, trashes the peaceful Anasazi of the Northeastern Arizona and
Northwestern New Mexico setting of 800 and more years ago -- ancestors of
the modern Hopi -- by falsely claiming they practiced wide-spread
cannibalism [somehow ostensibly managing to drag in as co-villains with the
Anasazi the very far away Toltecs of Mexico!] I grew up among the Navajo,
adversaries of the Anasazi in the "old time" [mostly over water resources],
who have nothing whatsoever in their very carefully maintained and intricate
oral history to indicate that cannibalism was ever practiced by these long
ago pueblo neighbors. And the Hopis -- Anasazi descendants -- certainly do
A good number of Anglo and non-Indian anthropologists have also attacked
Turner's spurious work. And that encouraging note is as good a place as any
for me to indicate that, in my opinion, many anthropologists [including many
non-Indian ones] have been essentially OK in their relationships with
Native Americans -- and some have been extraordinarily positive allies of
our Indian people.
Anglo anthropologists were among those who encouraged the launching of the
very important pan-Indian [tribally transcendent] and all-Indian Society of
American Indians on Columbus Day, 1911 -- in which Native ethnologists [a
division of anthropology] such as Arthur C. Parker and J.N.B. Hewitt played
leading roles along with many other Native academics and activists from a
wide range of tribal and experiential backgrounds. Dr W.E.B. DuBois, by the
way, himself part Indian and a key founder of the NAACP in 1909 as well as
its predecessor Niagara Movement, vigorously supported the Society and its
Frank Speck, University of Pennsylvania, a key figure in United States
anthropology for generations and very much trusted always by Native
Americans, did very careful and honorable and enduring research -- full and
inclusive -- among the Wabanaki and the Iroquois and other such very much
culturally-intact tribal nations of the Northeast. He also worked hard and
faithfully on behalf of some of the most marginal surviving tribal groups --
long forgotten -- e.g., the Nanticokes of Delaware and Maryland to whom he
faithfully donated much weekend time for years, helping them retain and
retake much of their aboriginal cultures.
The great work of Clyde Kluckhohn and Dorthea Leighton, Harvard, among the
Navajo is legendary, deep into the 20th Century.
And there are many other very positive examples. I personally recall with
great affection and respect Bob Euler -- and Ned Danson [father of the
actor, Ted] -- both old Southwestern family friends [and teachers of mine]
whose commitment to Native cultures and Native rights was absolutely
splendid at every point.
>From 1973 through 1976, I was a professor in the Graduate Program in Urban
and Regional Planning at the University of Iowa -- and was also UI's advisor
to the Native students. I arrived as a major national Indian concern was
erupting vigorously in Iowa -- the sanctity of Native American burials. The
Iowa State Archaeologist [an office traditionally based at UI], Marshall
McKussack, was extremely insensitive to Indian concerns and was a target of
Deloria in "Custer." [Archaeology, of course, is a major division of
Anthropology.] This old dinosaur was being retired and Duane Anderson, also
an Anglo, was appointed to the storm-ridden post. Duane appointed a three
person Native American advisory committee -- Maria Thompson Pearson
["Running Moccasins"], a Santee Sioux; Don Wanatee, a Mesquaki; and myself.
We all traveled the state -- and surrounding areas -- securing the opinions
of Native persons from both reservation and urban settings. Duane Anderson,
anthropologist, was a very solid person all the way through. In due course,
we-all had an excellent piece of proposed legislation which the Iowa General
Assembly passed and the supportive Governor, Robert Ray, immediately signed.
This legislation -- the strongest package of state level protection for
Native burials ever passed in the country -- set forth elaborate procedures
for the protection of Native burials, for the analysis and reburial in
traditional settings for Native remains, and for a closed state cemetery to
house Native remains that could not be classified in a specific tribal
sense. The Iowa legislation helped significantly to blaze the trail for the
major Federal statute, the Native American Graves Protection and
Repatriation Act of 1990 -- as well as some related measures.
Very importantly, an increasing number of Native Americans have been
entering Anthropology, following the trail-blazing traditions of Arthur
Parker and J.N.B. Hewitt and, in more contemporary times, such vigorous
researchers [and often activists] as Alphonso Ortiz, Bob Bennett, Edward
Dozier -- and Vine Deloria, Jr [who, although not formally trained in the
discipline, has certainly absorbed and contributed to it in countless
positive ways indeed.]
Increasingly, anthropologists have been extremely useful -- in conjunction
with the very important Native oral historians -- in providing critical
expert court testimony in support of Native American land claims and water
rights and environmental and related cases. A multitude of
anthropologists -- from all ethnicities -- have been at the fore in the
broadly human battle against racism and cultural ethnocentrism.
But there can be mess-ups -- when academic aspirations and aboriginal
societies and cultures and the encroaching world's hunger for natural
resources -- all come together. Here's a sketch of one. Hunter
Gray [Hunterbear] www.hunterbear.org
Amazon's war of words revisited
Outsiders take a new look at controversy over Yanomami tribe
By Alan Boyle MSNBC
March 29 - Almost four decades ago, a young anthropologist named Napoleon
Chagnon began to study an Amazonian people who had known virtually no
with the outside world, called the Yanomami. It was a classic case of
Lost," with outsiders sparking a wave of rapid - and some would say deadly -
changes among the Yanomami. Now Chagnon stands accused of cultural crimes,
he has been banned from pursuing his life's work. Who is right, and who's
wronged? Both sides get their say in a fresh examination of the issue.
WHEN CHAGNON lived among the Yanomami in the Venezuelan Amazon during the
and 1970s, he found their society to be remarkably aggressive and
an image that ran counter to the stereotype of the noble savage.
Chagnon's accounts of the Yanomami - their battles with neighboring tribes,
their stone-age technology, their shaman healers, their rituals of marriage
death - made his reputation. But critics charged that Chagnon had created a
distorted image of indigenous culture, that his very presence and behavior
encouraged the violence he wrote about, and that he helped lay the
for invasions by land-hungry generals and gold miners.
One native-rights activist, Patrick Tierney, went so far as to claim in a
titled "Darkness in El Dorado" that Chagnon and his colleagues had a hand in
exacerbating a killer measles epidemic in 1968 - a claim that drew heavy
fire from other anthropologists.
The years of criticism led Venezuela first to restrict Chagnon's access to
region, and then to bar all research among the Yanomami. Last year,
Office of Indigenous Affairs organized an expedition to the heart of the
forest, to investigate the charges of anthropological malpractice firsthand.
Accompanying the team were photographer Les Stone and Scott Wallace, a
and television producer who agreed to do a documentary for an adviser to the
Venezuelan agency. Wallace reports on the experience in the April issue of
National Geographic Adventure, and footage from his documentary is airing on
the National Geographic Channel.
AMONG THE YANOMAMI
In his report, Wallace recounts tales of arriving at a village in the midst
a funeral, and tasting a ritual soup seasoned with the ashes of the dearly
departed ... of mixing up a rainbow of Gatorade drinks for delighted
children ... of reviewing Chagnon's case with two shamans who were under the
influence of the hallucinogenic concoction called yopo.
>From the Yanomami, he heard repeated complaints about promised goods that
Chagnon never delivered, about prying questions that targeted the tribe's
deepest taboo. Chagnon worked to document the Yanomami's kinship systems, in
some cases paying informants to find out the true names of dead relatives -
names that would be sacrilegious for any Yanomami to reveal.
"It's so bad that if I speak the name of your dead relative, you are obliged
kill me," a missionary who lived among the villagers told Wallace. Almost a
decade after Chagnon's last visit, those transgressions still sting.
Wallace came away convinced that Chagnon - who was known among the Yanomami
"Shaki," or "little bee" - would never be allowed to set foot among the
"When Shaki comes, there is hishiki, confusion," one warrior said during a
meeting with investigators. "Those of us who are leaders now say he doesn't
NAPOLEON IN EXILE
Wallace met with Chagnon as well, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer with
balding 63-year-old at his retreat in the North Woods of Michigan.
"Chagnon is completely unrepentant," Wallace said in an e-mail message sent
MSNBC.com from Brazil, where he was again journeying into the bush. "I think
would live his life over just as he has, if he could."
The way Chagnon told it to Wallace, the controversy was whipped up by
colleagues and "self-appointed ayatollahs" of political correctness who had
been out to get him for years. He contended that he treated the Yanomami and
their secret lore with respect - but acknowledged that if a warrior didn't
deliver on his part of a deal, he didn't feel bound to follow through on his
He also resisted the idea that he exploited the Yanomami to increase his own
"I don't look at 'first contact' as a coup similar to raping a virgin,"
told Wallace. "It's a privileged opportunity to learn something precious
another people before they're snuffed out. I would have given my left
to see the Plains Indians in the 15th century, to see what they did, to see
what their society was like."
FUTURE IN THE FOREST
After months of investigation, the Venezuelan government should soon be
its report on the impact Chagnon and other outsiders have had on the
The American Anthropological Association, based in Virginia, has already
produced a report voicing a different set of concerns about how the
Yanomami are faring. The Yanomami's brethren on the Brazilian side of the
border are making out much better, said Florida International University's
Janet Chernela, who chairs the association's human rights committee.
Brazil has a better record of working with nongovernmental organizations,
putting trained medical personnel in the field who are motivated to go out
among the Yanomami. After an 18-month campaign by an aid group called URIHI,
infant mortality among the Brazilian Yanomami was cut in half, Chernela
On the Venezuelan side, in contrast, "the medical facilities are few, and
they're stationary," she said. The state-funded medical workers are not as
trained, and turnover is high. Chernela said Venezuelan natives at the
frequently cross over into Brazil for medical care.
A constitution adopted by Venezuela in 1999 provides more rights for the
country's indigenous people, but Chernela said the application of those
"hasn't yet been worked out on the ground."
Meanwhile, the Yanomami are facing competition with other tribes for land,
health problems such as malaria, river blindness and infant diarrhea - and
growing realization that they may have to become more involved in the
world to defend their rain forest domain.
"It's very ironic, because it's one of the few egalitarian societies
said Chernela, who attended the first all-Yanomami meeting in Venezuela last
November. "Yet, in order to protect their own rights, they're going to have
find a means of representation, to find spokesmen ... and in so doing, they
could sacrifice that egalitarianism. It's a delicate balance."
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