U of S archaeology, anthropology departments apologize in spirit of reconciliation

Through a statement issued at the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre last month, staff from the archaeology and anthropology department at the University of Saskatchewan apologized for the wrongdoings of their predecessors.

"As we continue to strive toward reconciliation, we cannot lose sight of the problematic past.”

The U of S archaeology and anthropology department marked 50 years by apologizing for the actions of their peers and pledged to launch a new era of work as "engaged scholars," according to professor James Waldram. (Credit: Raymond Roig/AFP/Getty Images)

The University of Saskatchewan's Archaeology and Anthropology department marked its 50th anniversary by apologizing for the actions of their peers when it comes to conducting research on Indigenous people.

Through a statement issued at the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre last month, staff apologized for the wrong doings of their predecessors.

"The university has embraced the idea of reconciliation and encouraged all of us to embrace it," professor James Waldram said. "It seemed logical to us that we would frame an official response."

The department's statement said while early archaeologists and anthropologists laid the groundwork for much of the decolonization research taking place today, it was often conducted without community engagement and political action.

The statement said views around community engagement started shifting in the 1960s and picked up in the 1980s and 1990s.

"As we continue to strive toward reconciliation, we cannot lose sight of the problematic past," the department's statement said. "It informs many of the rightfully critical views that Indigenous people have of the work of scholars today."

The statement said it's the duty of archaeologists and anthropologists to educate the public about modern work which is now changing.

"This is an approach that is firmly grounded in the development of equal partnerships with Indigenous communities and the application of archaeological and anthropological knowledge and expertise to heritage preservation and the understanding and resolution of current issues," the statement read.  

Recommitting to reconciliation

In marking 50 years, the department also reaffirmed their commitment to reconciliation, which they defined as an open honest and critical examination of their relationship with Indigenous people in Canada and around the world.

"Reconciliation, for us, starts with an acknowledgement of past wrongs in our discipline's scholarship and provides a pathway for charting our future course of symbiotic, relational, engaged and impactful scholarship," the statement read.

The department's statement said research was often conducted without community engagement.

"This was not always done properly in harmony with local Indigenous codes for ethical knowledge attainment and sharing," the statement said. "Nor were interpretations of findings always returned to communities to ensure accuracy."

Department commits to honouring stories

The university committed to, through research, teaching and public engagement, honouring the stories of residential school survivors by working together with Indigenous people towards a "just and equitable future."

"Let this statement represent not the end, but the beginning of a meaningful conversation about the relationship between scholarship and Indigenous peoples," the statement read.