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Asked at Quillette: Why Is the Society for American Archaeology Promoting Indigenous Creationism?


Well, we sort of know why, don’t we? Even Darwin is no longer Cancel Culture proof:

In April, one of us—Elizabeth Weiss—gave a talk, titled Has Creationism Crept Back into Archaeology?, at the 86th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA). The 87-year-old SAA identifies itself as “an international organization dedicated to research about the interpretation and protection of the archaeological heritage of the Americas.” The SAA board of directors includes professors, curators, and government archaeologists, all of whom presumably appreciate the importance of studying artifacts and human remains as a means to understanding the history of our species…

The most expansive interpretations of NAGPRA’s provisions now serve to place Indigenous oral traditions, which typically include religious stories, on equal footing with traditional forms of scientific evidence such as DNA analysis. And NAGPRA’s review committees often contain traditional Indian religious leaders who assist in repatriation decisions. While it is unfashionable to say so, we do not believe that this application of NAGPRA is correct. Contrary to the popular misunderstanding of NAGPRA, human remains and artifacts are not just repatriated to lineal descendants (such as a great-great grandchild), but are often repatriated to those who are deemed culturally affiliated. This kind of link can be established through orally transmitted creation myths that are analogous to what exists in the book of Genesis—tales of the origin of the universe and of people that are based on a series of miraculous events. (In 2007, the Department of the Interior went further by attempting to extend NAGPRA’s provisions to even those remains whose connections are “culturally unidentifiable.”)

In arguing against the perspective that oral traditions consisting of animistic creation myths should be used to determine repatriation decisions, we had hoped for an intellectually-driven debate over the scope of NAGPRA, and in regard to the treatment of knowledge more generally in our field. Instead, even before our talk aired, repatriation activists, both within the SAA and beyond, attacked it as racist, anti-Indigenous, colonialist, and even white-supremacist.

Elizabeth Weiss and James W. Springer, “Why Is the Society for American Archaeology Promoting Indigenous Creationism?” at Quillette (June 13, 2021)

The rest went pretty much as you might expect, with the Archeology Society refusing to broadcast the talk and announcing that “the SAA board finds the presentation does not align with SAA’s values,” and mentioned that “the board categorically rejects the Weiss-Springer position.”

Weiss and Springer rerecorded the talk because the Society refused to prove them with a copy (of their own talk). Here it is:

What to think? Well, Darwinism was the original Cancel Culture, as many reading this will know. For many decades, it was difficult or impossible to critique it from any perspective, no matter what the evidence. If social power alone wins, why not Indigenous creationism? Weiss and Springer will be lucky to come out of this with their careers intact.

Yer news hack (O’Leary for News) was reminded by this episode f an event from decades ago:

Once upon a time in 1990, before I had a computer, I was sitting at my desk in an apartment in Toronto (Canada) editing a chapter of a Grade 8 history textbook in pencil, line by line.

In, possibly, Chapter 6, the authors offered the opinion that science explanations are all very well but Indigenous people are entitled to believe their own origin myths, which are just as good.

I flagged that for my boss editor, told her: Take a look at this. = The Ministry for Education won’t like it and they pay for the books.

At the time, I had never heard of ID. I recall cowboys and frontiersmen thinking Darwinism was rubbish. = It didn’t reflect what they knew about animals and such.

However, my job required me to point out this material and ask for a house ruling. I expect it got the chop but, whatever happened, I had already been moved on to a different book project.

But maybe it wouldn’t get the chop today.

So, the mills of God grind slowly but they grind exceeding small: The Darwinians trampled on a lot of evidence to get where they are now and there is no reason some enterprising fanatic, sailing under another flag, can’t just unseat them the same way.

Note: Weiss and Springer may not be hardcore Darwinists, of course, and the situation they are describing is bad for science-based enquiry. The trouble is, if they choose to see the problem solely in terms of a decline in the dogmatic acceptance of Darwinism, they are part of the problem themselves.


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