Rumors of Our Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated: Archaeological Perspectives on Culture and Sustainability
Predictions of the imminent demise of Indigenous cultures have circulated among Western intellectuals for more than two hundred years. Capitalism, Christianity, and Western civilization were thought by 19th century scholars to be on the verge of eradicating global cultural variation. Contemporary scholars have revived these views, suggesting that not only were Indigenous cultures about to succumb to Western hegemony, these forces were poised to bring about the end of history itself. What unites these perspectives are an ideology stressing asymmetrical power relations between the West and Indigenous cultures, and the proposition that only Western intervention is capable of rescuing Indigeneity. This paper examines the current crisis of Indigenous cultural sustainability, arguing that the epistemology informing many of these perspectives remain largely unchanged from their 19th century precursors. Citing case studies in archaeology and cultural heritage management, I suggest a ground-up approach to cultural sustainability in which Western institutions and individuals serve only the expressed desires and at the invitation of Indigenous peoples. Such restraint represents both recognition of Indigenous sovereignty regarding all cultural preservation efforts, as well as the dynamic, ever-changing nature of culture itself.
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