New archaeology views Native scholarships as part of a major change

DENVER – From a Native perspective, archaeology has often been seen as the central villain in America’s quest to uncover and claim – and sometimes illegally market – the remnants of an ancient past.

But if current trends are any indication, archaeology’s rehabilitation may be well underway, as Native scholars and students bring a living past into a vibrant present to offset a history marked by non-Native disrespect for tribal traditions, including those dictating burial practices.

“Archaeology is moving in a different direction, and schools and (archaeology) scholarships for Native people don’t just symbolize that new direction, but are part of the new direction,” said a spokesperson for the Society for American Archaeology’s Native scholarship program.

The new archaeology appears to be more acceptable to the Indian people entering the field in increasing numbers, aided by scholarships from the 8,000-member SAA, such entities as nonprofit Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in southwestern Colorado, and institutions that include the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

The SAA has funded scholarship projects including field schools from Easter Island to the Hawaiian Islands and a Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation cooperative project with the University of Massachusetts, said Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, of the SAA’s Native American Scholarships Committee and DMNS’ curator of anthropology.

As a result of increased collaboration between archaeologists and Native Americans, “There has been much more attention paid to the connections between the indigenous people who lived in the Southwest in the past and their descendants whose nations are located in New Mexico and Arizona today,” said Mark Varien, CCAC vice president of programs.


High school students learned to sort artifacts at the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center’s research laboratory under one of the center’s scholarship programs for Native youth. The center also offers partial scholarships to American Indian schools to attend its experiential education programs.

Crow Canyon has worked with the continuity of Native culture in the area where Hopi, Jemez, Ohkay Owingeh and other puebloan farmers plant corn using dry land farming methods from the past. They are “still growing corn that way today,” said Rebecca Hammond, Ute Mountain Ute, a CCAC educator and member of its Native American Advisory Group.

Taken together, the new archaeology stresses knowledge of the past that can be used in planning for contemporary tribal development, Chanthaphonh said of the SAA program, or that brings ancestral practices into the present, as at Crow Canyon.

In the SAA-supported Pequot field program, a high school senior was “really impassioned” to work on the reservation and plans to enter college to help record and develop the history of her people, he said.

Another SAA scholarship recipient was able to get training in global information systems to help a tribe avoid ancestral sites when planning new developments, he said, noting that one of current archaeology’s main functions is to “locate sites – be a good tool for planning and for assessing the potential impacts on tribal lands.”

Some students work with the Pueblo Farming Project where staff and pueblo Indian consultants plant and harvest corn in experimental gardens. All phases of the project are being documented, and the results will be integrated into the curriculum.

“It’s really cool to get them talking about corn,” Hammond said. But the skills brought into the present are only part of the Native approach at the center, located near many of the communities and fields used by ancient peoples whose descendants remember them and retain ancestral values and skills.

Values are at the center of much of what distinguishes the new archaeology from the old. For example, Crow Canyon doesn’t seek out human remains as objects of study, in accordance with a policy derived in consultation with its Native American Advisory Group.

“There’s a really complex history in terms of the relationship between archaeologists and Native America – a long road and a hard road – and it’s a road we’re still traveling on, and scholarships are a small, but meaningful part,” Chanthaphonh said.


Photo courtesy Starr family Jessica Starr, 19, Navajo/Jicarilla Apache, of Denver, received a Native American Science Scholarship to pursue a dual degree in astrophysics and art at the University of Denver under the Native programs offered by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

The newer philosophy “allows archaeologists who want to be more respectful to Native communities to work collaboratively with them. So these scholarships are a tangible way that we can try to be more sensitive and actively create a more diverse discipline.”

“Thirty years ago archaeologists were the primary voice when knowledge about the past was presented in schools, museums, at National Parks and elsewhere,” Varien said. “Today, the story of the past is multivocal, presenting archaeological knowledge alongside the traditional knowledge of American Indians.

The SAA scholarships, available to indigenous people throughout the Americas, range in amount from $4,000 for students or employees of tribal cultural preservation programs, to $5,000 for undergraduates, and up to $10,000 for graduate studies. Some 50 people have received support from SAA programs in the last decade.

The Crow Canyon scholarship program offers full support for American Indian students from any tribal nation for a three-week High School Field School, one-week High School Archaeology Camp, or one-week Middle School Archaeology Camp. Students learn from studies at Cortez and Hovenweep National Monument, both in southwestern Colorado.

The new archaeology is part of a broader spectrum of science studies being emphasized for Native students at institutions including DMNS, which offers annual scholarships for those interested in science careers and which, like Crow Canyon, has a Native American Advisory Group.