My name is Emily Stock and I’m an anthropology major at Sonoma State. My interests include linguistics, archaeology, and cultural anthropology, with particular emphasis on local Native American studies and NAGPRA. You can check out my personal COPLAC blog here.
We are both anthropology majors at Sonoma State. We are drawn to this discipline because it studies people across time and space and helps us understand culture contextually. For this project we used a lot of anthropological literature and at times anthropological theory to try to place colonialism in context. We feel that anthropological perspectives helped us to look at the history of land dispossession in this area in a holistic fashion, and one of the things that it made us consider is the role of anthropology as a colonial tool. The first thing we should have done was to reach out to members of the local tribal community to get feedback on this project and to help us frame our own narrative. Although we did not do this, it would be a meaningful way to decolonize this project in the future.
Anthropology has a long and difficult history with Native Americans. In his 1969 work, Custer Died For Your Sins, Vine Deloria writes: “…Indians have been cursed above all people in history. Indians have anthropologists” (78). Deloria describes the efforts of anthropologists to locate the one true story of the one true Indian, an idea which is absurd but not untrue: much of what we know about indigenous Californians is from data collected in the early 20th century by anthropologists working with Alfred Kroeber at the University of California, Berkeley. Embarking on what he saw as a “salvage” mission, Kroeber developed a method of study that relied less on gathering information about how native people lived at the time of contact with the ethnographer, and instead focused on “memory culture” methodology (Lightfoot 2005, 32) with the intent of capturing the last remembrances of life before European contact. Kroeber wanted to reconstruct an “original aboriginal culture” (Lightfoot 2005, 222), providing context for the cultural changes that occurred as a result of contact. To these ends, Kroeber privileged native groups which presumably had experienced the least amount of contact prior to the gold rush because these would offer the most unadulterated memories, the “purest” vision of the lives of Native Californians.
Authors such as Lightfoot have argued that this work eventually effected which tribes received federal recognition and lands, and which did not. Those tribes which ethnographers deemed extinct or culturally compromised due to extended contact with colonial elements were less likely to be granted land and protection by the government while those who had managed to preserve what Western social scientists decided was their authentic culture fared better (Lightfoot 2005). Whether intentionally or not, anthropologists have acted as colonial forces, profiting academically from the dispossession of native people, acting as authorities or interpreters of cultures that they may have been complicit in destroying.
As students of anthropology we believe it is important for us to offer this information for further context in the erasure of Native history.