Margaret Bruchac § Katrin H. Lamon Resident Scholar

“Consorting with Savages: Indigenous Informants and American Anthropologists”

Margaret M. BruchacMargaret M. Bruchac2011–2012 Katrin H. Lamon Resident ScholarMargaret M. Bruchac2011–2012 Katrin H. Lamon Resident Scholar

“Is the mail here yet?” “Has FedEx come today?” More days than not, these were Margaret Bruchac’s questions as she raced through the SAR reception center, as antsy and excited as a kid at Christmas. She was often expecting copies of photos, copies of correspondence, or texts she had ordered.

When she came to SAR to finish her latest book, Consorting With Savages: Indigenous Informants and American Anthropologists, Bruchac expected to have access to resources she wouldn’t have at her home in Connecticut. What she didn’t expect was an email out of the blue from Diane Boyer, photo archivist and author, and Steve Hayden, the son of the late archaeologist Julian Hayden. Boyer and Hayden had heard of Bruchac’s research from staff at the Denver Museum, and they invited her to their home. Hayden's father had kept all of the photographs and letters sent to him by Bertha Yewas Parker, the first Native female archaeologist and a favorite subject of Bruchac’s research. Steve also had his father’s diaries from 1929 to 1935, which mentioned Bertha Parker on almost every page.

While at SAR, Bruchac took advantage of her time in the Southwest by traveling to the Southwest Museum of the American Indian in Los Angeles, an adventure that she says allowed her to uncover information and make connections that she could not have made otherwise. She went through the museum’s journal, Masterkey, and found associations and kinships that led to what she describes as an epiphany that altered the organization of her book. “Going through those journals was an exercise I could not have done if I didn’t have the leisure to say, ‘Well, let’s take a few days and just see what I find.’” Connecting the dots among renowned Native American archaeologist Arthur Parker, his wife Beulah Tahamont, their daughter Bertha Yewas Parker, and Mark Raymond Harrington was the kind of find that can completely change an anthropologist’s perspective. Harrington, himself a well-known scholar, hired Bertha as an assistant archaeologist and field secretary shortly after marrying her aunt Endeka (Edna Parker). These two Native women proved to be gifted archaeologists in their own right, and their independent findings were featured in Harrington’s field notes and correspondence and in Masterkey. Bertha Parker also became one of the first ethnologists to contact Modoc, Pomo, and Yurok communities in California. Bruchac uncovered dense data on the two women’s activities, yet the contributions of these pioneering female Native American archaeologists are virtually unknown today.

In her manuscript, Bruchac highlights these complex relationships and connections in a way that “allows us to see that kinship is as important as intellectual ownership,” and that gender, race, and position were neither as limiting nor as predictive as might be imagined. “Some Native people, like Arthur Parker, achieved success by distancing themselves from their indigenous relatives; some anthropologists, like Mark Raymond Harrington, were almost seamlessly integrated into indigenous kinship networks; and others, like William Fenton, policed a very sharp cultural and intellectual divide,” says Bruchac.

Bruchac’s research into the era of “salvage anthropology,” or the collecting of stories and artifacts of supposedly dying cultures for museums, is not simply academic curiosity. It’s her “life’s work,” her passion. She acknowledges that white, male American anthropologists have played a disproportionately large role in shaping public perceptions of Indian identity and materiality. Her goal is to broaden the historical perspective and show the important role Indians played as informants in the collecting process. “I am calling attention to the intellectual contributions of Native individuals as active participants in the museum enterprise,” says Bruchac.

“By reconnecting people with ancestral artifacts, images, and voices, museums can contribute to cultural restoration, thus repairing some of the damage done by their predecessors.”—Margaret Bruchac

Bruchac is also fostering the repatriation of Native artifacts and sorting out the white interpretations of Indian culture from the oral and written histories of the Native people who were being interpreted. She is speaking directly with Native informants and their descendants to discern what stories they have preserved about the “savage” outsiders who came into their communities during a difficult era in history. Thus, the title of her book, Consorting With Savages, reflects more than one culture’s point of view. “At the very time that Native communities are having to do the most strategic shifting is when the anthropologists are doing the most intensive collecting,” says Bruchac. “They’re physically removing objects and stories and traditions and repositioning them. This process sometimes helped Native communities, but sometimes they alienated communities from their own culture.” She sees her job as one of restoring the Native perspective and influence to the anthropological record of the 1920s,’30s, and ’40s.

“It is so heart-filling to do this work. It feels like this is why I became an anthropologist,” says Bruchac. “It encourages me to use every bit of my own humanity in the goal of restorative research. My social relations help me to navigate among Native tribes, and I can use the anthropological methods to highlight the intersections among indigenous and academic knowledge.”

Find out more about Margaret Bruchac by visiting the SAR website (opens in new browser window).