Recently in social media circles and general literature writers have discussed the unsupported claims of the Clovis First hypothesis of initial human migrations to the Western Hemisphere. This is an important discussion on the ancient history of First Peoples, for what remains undiscussed remains unchallenged and hidden. It is also important to press for rewriting Indigenous histories within educational material and the general media which continue to teach and apply identifiers such as the Clovis People. Archaeologists discuss sites in the Western Hemisphere (the Americas) where Clovis fluted tools and associated artifacts have been discovered as sites which were inhabited or used by the Clovis people. However the only place Clovis people existed was in the colonial conjecture of American archaeology. All anthropologists and archaeologists are aware of the fact that one tool type such as the Clovis fluted tool, does not define a culture, specifically not a pan hemispheric culture. The material record of many Clovis sites contained numerous tool types that suggest a diversity of cultures and technologies. Contemporary archaeologists continue to discuss the “Clovis People”, yet no such cultural group ever existed beyond the wildest imagination of the archaeological mind. Nowhere in history or the archaeological record is there a precedence for a pan hemispheric single cultural group. If one predominant tool type across time and space is a legitimate archaeological model for a uniform pan hemispheric cultural group, then I must insist that European archaeologists begin to properly identify ancient Eastern Hemisphere groups as the Acheulian and Oldowan People. Such claims as ‘the Clovis People” made in the name of Western Science and often accepted as fact by the general population, and are not exposed for what Vine Deloria, Jr. called, the absurdity of their claims.
The social and political impacts of constructed Indigenous identities and histories invented from a Western Eurocentric gaze work to disempower contemporary Indigenous people and fuel discrimination while creating histories and social memories to serve a dominant master narrative. In discursive and legal work to rid the landscape of Indigenous people’s colonial Empires and institutions invented historical scenarios such as the Clovis People and the American Terra Nullius, a term which refers to a newly discovered land devoid of civilized populations, and used to forward claims for control of land and resources. Vine Deloria, Jr, (1992) made an important point when he stated; “unless and until ‘Indians” are in some way connected with world history as early peoples… we will never be accorded full humanity”. To allow that Indigenous people have been present in the Western Hemisphere for a much greater time than 14, 000 years ago is to solidify their claims to Indigeneity, to support Indigenous ownership of the past, cultural identity, and links to homelands and material heritage. Archaeologists are of course aware of this, David Meltzer (2009) stated that “Archaeologists are acutely aware of the possible implications of the earlier peopling of the Americas, which reflects on contemporary issues of identity, ancestry, and ownership of the past and present”
Throughout my doctoral research process I became familiar with the published literature of hundreds of excavated sites which pre date Clovis timeframes 11,200 to 10,900 years ago, and the decade’s long overly aggressive denial of an earlier indigenous presence. After reading numerous accounts of aggressive academic bashing of archaeologists who published on earlier sites and the long standing a priori dismissal of Pre-Clovis sites, I began to question why such a violent denial of earlier sites existed in a field where the main goal has always been the pursuit of knowledge of the human past. I argue in my dissertation that the long standing academic denial over the legitimacy of Pre-Clovis sites, and some American archaeologist’s reluctance to consider earlier initial migrations reflects a neocolonial practice of maintaining the historical erasure of an ancient Indigenous presence in the Western Hemisphere. I argue that this erasure denies Indigenous people a place in world history which accords them full humanity (Deloria 1992 ) and denies knowledge of the past which is known from oral traditions and the material record which is as Linda T Smith (2004) discussed “crucial for their identity, growth, and development, pride, problem-solving strategies, and cultural survival”
Regarding American archaeology an academic science that seeks to investigate anomalous data, to learn on a global scale of early human histories and cultures, the questions becomes why, why was finding or discussing possibilities of earlier archaeological sites in the Western Hemisphere (The Americas), a forbidden, and academically dangerous pursuit in American archaeology, and why for such a long time were earlier sites automatically deemed as “controversial” and denied. Why did so many American archaeologists not question or critique the aggressive blocking of academic pursuits, and the obvious need to test an untested Clovis First hypothesis, why the silence and complicity, in a field that is built on open dialogue and discovery of the human past? The answer is not complex as there is a well documented and long standing violent history of colonialism which dehumanized Indigenous people relegating them to New Worlds of cultural infancy dominated by foreign Old World Empires of advanced cultural evolution. Which is yet another fallacy deeply embedded in American education and governmental systems, it is often and otherwise known as racial discrimination.
Thus in discussing Indigenous histories I would encourage all authors to contemplate their mimicking of the colonizers language which is deeply embedded in a violent praxis of erasure and dehumanization of Indigenous peoples. Cleansing our minds and language of colonial educational narratives can be visualized as an Indigenous ceremony. A traditional practice in many Indigenous cultures, known as pyro regeneration it burns away old dense forest cover and allows the sunlight in to bring new life to the earth. I discuss this in my writing as Pyro-epistemology a term I coined in 2012. The fire being Critical Indigenous Scholarship, which flames away layers of biased colonial thought to allow room for traditional frames of knowledge to regenerate new growth. Pyro-epistemology is one flame of many which creates the eighth fire. Thus bringing the healing smoke of breaths of Indigenous knowledge as the wind which fans the flames and transgress a dehumanizing colonially created Indigenous past. The diversity of the ancient Indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere is evident in linguistics, as well as the archaeological record. Thus in discussions it is important to not recreate the erasure of Indigenous diversity which is evident in archaeological hypothesis such as that of the Clovis People as stated earlier; no such cultural group ever existed but in the wildest imagination of the Anglo American archaeological mind.
Paulette Steeves, Cree- Metis, is an Indigenous Paleo-Archaeologist she is a doctoral candidate at Binghamton University, she is currently teaching Native American Studies at Fort Peck Community College. Her research is focused on re-writing the ancient history of the Indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere and decolonization of educational curriculum and literature within the general media.