Friday 26 August 2011

Day 146: Makah Cultural and Research Center

Antonia on the beach at Neah Bay, with the inflatable slideship in the background.
We drove up to the Makah Indian reservation at the far north-western tip of the United States, mostly to visit the museum and cultural research centre there.  This institution was built to house artefacts from the Ozette site, an ancient longhouse village just down the coast that got covered by a mudslide centuries ago.  Although I didn't have time to research the Olympic peninsula very much before I got here, it turns out that I knew about this site.  It's cropped up in a couple of archaeology courses I've read, as a kind of poster child when we're talking about relationships between academic researchers and the communities they're working amongst.  In this case, the relationship was positive because the Makah remained in control of the process and the artefacts, with the position of the archaeologists being closer to that of professional contractors.  Obviously, this worked out well for everyone because the Makah wanted the services the archaeologists could offer, which isn't always the case.  It's interesting to see the contribution the research centre and the Ozette site is making to Makah culture today as well as to building relationships with visitors.  Keeping those artefacts in that place has made a huge positive difference for all concerned.  Obviously, I'm supposed to have thought critically about the tendency to centralise important artefacts in the big cities, but visiting the Makah museum and reservation really brought it home to me.  The other thing I got from the trip was the importance of cultural ownership among the Makah, which is rather different from ours and which obviously predated the excavation of the Ozette site.  It's quite hard to grasp all the implications of a cultural difference like that quickly, but it has to have a bearing on the relationship between Makah and non-Makah researchers.  But it also means that not everything we learn from this particular relationship is necessarily transferable.  Hmmm....  I wonder what Antonia learned today?  She is studying Native American history at the moment.

It turned out that we showed up on the Makah reservation on the first of the Makah Days, which is a major festival celebrating Makah culture.  The festival was really just getting off to a start, but we hung out at the street market at Neah Bay for a bit, then on the beach.  Antonia found a small friend to play with, I watched the young people's canoe races, then she went for a go on the inflatable slide shaped like a cruise liner.  I was feeling quite in my element, because they closed the main street along the beach to traffic and I was able to walk happily down the middle of the road with people all around me instead of traffic, just like in Europe.  One interesting thing I noticed at the stand where I bought coffee is that they had posters up with photographs of a baby and a description of his parentage.  The idea was to get people to vote for him to become a tribal member, but I didn't get the chance to ask if this is the usual procedure for all babies.  It turned out to be quite a long day trip for us as we didn't get home till after 8.00pm, but we were all happy we made it.

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