Indigenous Section of the AAA Approved

From Indian Country Today

Indigenous section OK’d by anthropological group
Posted: December 28, 2007
by: Jerry Reynolds / Indian Country Today

WASHINGTON – The American Anthropological Association board of directors approved an indigenous section of its membership for the first time on Dec. 5. The vote was unanimous.

Section status means the Association of Indigenous Anthropologists will have the right to comment on all papers – primarily research papers – that come before the AAA, according to JoAllyn Archambault, director of the American Indian Program at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. Informal comments have always been possible, she said, but now they’ll have to be accepted.

Traditionally, as acknowledged with humor at a workshop of the association’s conference in Washington at the start of December, Native people have shunned anthropology as a profession because of its role in the settler pervasion of tribes in the 19th century and after. But with approximately 100 Native anthropologists practicing in the United States and Canada, according to Archambault, Native perspective has gained a foothold. Archambault can remember the days, some 30 years ago, when she, Beatrice Medicine and George Abrams could get acquainted with every Native anthropologist in the country. Medicine would book a hotel room at AAA conferences and make it available for discussion. ”The point was … just to get to know each other and encourage the students.”

Eventually, Archambault managed to help establish the American Indian Native American Alaska Native interest group within AAA. The designation meant AINAAN could meet in paid rooms, get a place in the official AAA conference program and gain in visibility. Fewer than 10 people attended that first meeting, Archambault said, but a committee formed to offer fellowships to Indian graduate students. The main committee rule was ”the grayheads decide,” she added. Soliciting contributions mainly from one another and a wealthy friend of Abrams who matched them with $1,000, they published a notice in the AAA newsletter of two $1,000 fellowships, AINAAN’s first. The fellowship program itself they dedicated to the late Ella Deloria of the famous Yankton family, best known now perhaps for her ethnographical novel, ”Waterlily.” But though she considered herself an ethnographer, Archambault and colleagues honor her as an anthropologist.

By comparison, the Association of Indigenous Anthropologists is apt be well-heeled and visible. But Archambault intends to keep the AINAAN fellowships going. She said she likes the idea of fellowships supported entirely (except for that early $1,000 from the friend of Abrams) by donations from Native people.