Peter d'Errico: Law isn't the only field in need of being decolonized

A satellite view of the Bering Strait today. Image by NASA

Retired professor Peter d'Errico looks at the efforts of Cree-Metis researcher Paulette Steeves to decolonize the field of archaeology:
Most folks probably don't think about archaeology when they look at U.S. federal Indian law—and vice versa. But the two fields interact as components of the ongoing domination of Indigenous Peoples.

The Bering Strait theory—Vine Deloria, Jr., called it the BS theory—has long dominated official viewpoints in archeology. It says that Turtle Island—which archeologists refer to as the American continent—was empty of people until about 13,000 years ago.

The theory asserts that human communities migrated to Turtle Island across a "land bridge" from Siberia, chasing game and carving spear points of a distinctive shape to kill the game for food. Archaeologists call the spear points "Clovis points," named for the town in New Mexico where they first turned up in digs. Before that, the theory goes, no humans lived in the Americas.

[Researcher Paulette] Steeves says, "this academic battle [about the Bering Strait theory] is not just about archaeological sites or material remains. The argument reflects an ongoing colonial practice of erasure and denies Indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere a place in ancient world history." She adds, "To allow that Indigenous people have been present in the Western Hemisphere for a much greater time is to solidify their links to homelands and material remains."

The BS theory plays an important role in maintaining colonizer domination over the Indigenous Peoples of the continent, by providing supposedly "scientific" evidence that the land was terra nullius—"belonged to no one," or "no man's land"—until relatively recently in earth history. The theory says the New World wasn't as old as the Old World: its peoples had no ancient presence.

Read More:
Peter d'Errico: Decolonizing the Past and Present of the Western Hemisphere (Indian Country Today 11/6)

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Doug George-Kanentiio: Bering Strait migration theory a big lie (02/04)
Paulette Steeves: History of Native people told from colonial eyes (09/03)

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