When Dr. Kristen Barnett first started university, she didn’t know anything about archaeology except that “archaeologists take things.” Today, she’s among a small group of Indigenous archaeologists who are redefining the profession.
Dr. Barnett, who joins the UBC Department of Anthropology in the fall of 2022, is committed to Indigenous archaeology – an approach that aims to advance decolonization and is driven by the needs and interests of the associated community. “Indigenous and western approaches are combined as equals and Indigenous peoples engage with scientific study as active participants and sovereign decision-makers, rather than passive objects of study,” she explains.
Her work stands in direct opposition to previous (and in some cases ongoing) practices in which archaeologists entered a community, took artifacts away to distant repositories and museums, and produced narratives about that community without consulting its people – narratives which often served to justify colonialism and white supremacy.
When Dr. Barnett began her work with the community of Togiak (a remote village in southwest Alaska near her traditional homelands), one of her first priorities at the request of the community was to help them recover belongings and human remains that had been removed by an archaeologist in the 1960s. She then worked closely with the community — including Elders and youth — to understand their needs and priorities and to determine how future archaeological work might support their interests. She is now engaged in a multi-year NSF-funded research project with the community that involves rematriation of materials and belongings, excavation, education, and digital storytelling.
The excavation work will aim to answer questions that the community has about its ancestors, including how they lived, interacted with other villages, and adapted to climate and colonial influences.
Dr. Barnett spoke to the Arts communications team about the principles of Indigenous archaeology and how it can support the long-term goals of its host communities. Please visit the Faculty of Arts website to read the full interview.
Under Strategy 17: Indigenous Engagement, the university is committed to supporting the objectives and actions of the Indigenous Strategic Plan.