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Where the Wind Blows Us: Practicing Critical Community Archaeology in the Canadian North.

WHERE THE WIND BLOWS US: PRACTICING CRITICAL COMMUNITY ARCHAEOLOGY IN THE CANADIAN NORTH. By NATASHA LYONS. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2013. ISBN 978-08165-2993-3. xxii + 230 p., map, b&w illus., appendixes, notes, references, index. Hardbound. US$55.00.

In Where the Wind Blows Us, Natasha Lyons examines the Inuvialuit Archaeological Partnership (IAP), a community-based archaeology program she has collaborated on with the Inuvialuit of the lower Mackenzie River and adjacent Beaufort Sea in the Northwest Territories of Canada. The approach to the community-based archaeological practice described by the author strives to be both inclusive and critical. Lyons has applied critical theory to a rigorous research design, which is subjected to ongoing questioning, reflection, and revision based on the different standpoints of Inuvialuit and their Euro-Canadian research partners on Inuvialuit history. Critical theory, as applied by Lyons, has its roots in the mid-20th century philosophers of the Frankfurt School, who sought to map the rise of global capitalism and counter the threats of nationalism and totalitarianism (see Kincheloe and McLaren, 2000). She has modified the methods of critical theory to critique and "...unearth the ways that historical writings have naturalized the asymmetrical relationship between Inuvialuit and colonizing forces [and] how bringing this knowledge to light is part of the larger process of decolonization that helps this community move forward" (p. 2).

Approaching her topic, Lyons has divided the book into eight chapters under three broad headings: Critique, Practice, and Reflections.

The Critique section broadly looks at alternative approaches to archaeology, seeking a community-based way forward that moves past the propensity of New Archaeology to treat Native peoples as objects and Robert McGhee's (2008) statements questioning the accommodation of a scientific discipline (archaeology) to the desires of the non-scientific community ... (indigenous people) (p. 10). In this approach, excavation has been de-emphasized in favor of oral history and museum-based material culture evaluation. The core of the Critique is tied to examining the basis for alternative representation of the Inuvialuit in the historical and archaeological record.

Practice relates to establishing the condition for "communicative action" to open the "communicative space" between people that allows participants to establish trust and respect within a group process to reinterpret the Inuvialuit past. Lyons is laying the groundwork for archaeology as social action. The central vehicles for IAP application of critical theory in this book relate to a collection of elder life histories and subsequent examination by Inuvialuit elders of the MacFarlane Collection at the Smithsonian Institution collected by Hudson's Bay Company factor James MacFarlane along the Anderson River near Fort Anderson, east of the Mackenzie River, in the early 1860s. "Artifact interpretations, and their relationship to Inuvialuit history, have been a central thematic focus through the course of the IAP" (p. 67). Where the Wind Blows Us is focused on the dynamics of the interpretive process rather than an actual discussion of the interpretation of the artifacts. Collectively, the IAP process was designed to document elder historical knowledge and Inuvialuit interpretation of material culture. Artifact interpretation and storytelling are conjoined as a means of establishing historical context to understand the state of Inuvialuit cultural heritage. This context is used in conducting workshops with school children and community groups.

Project deliverables from both the IAP and the Smithsonian included a summary report, a community feast, an artifact replica kit, project transcripts, skin clothing patterns and reproductions, a sewing brochure, lesson plans, a board game, and putting the MacFarlane collection online. These productions, along with the oral histories, were elements used to arrive at a negotiated analysis of Inuvialuit material history.

In Reflections, Lyons refers to the method as a negotiated analysis that critically examines Inuvialuit and Euro-Canadian interpretation of material culture and the history of the Inuvialuit. Alternative forms of archaeology are used to present Inuvialuit perspectives on identity and the material past that are culturally valid for the Inuvialuit.

In conclusion, the author has demonstrated the effectiveness of uniting critical practice with community-based archaeology to create a pragmatic approach to encompassing alternative interpretations of history as an essential element of empowering Inuvialuit interpretation of their own past. In the process she has demonstrated the value of critical theory as a cross-cultural tool with larger applications. This book will be of interest not only to archaeologists and ethnologists in the Arctic, but also to those involved in community development and the process of decolonization, where there is the need to build consensus out of distrust, in other parts of the world.


Kincheloe, J.L., and McLaren, P. 2000. Rethinking critical theory and qualitative research. In: Denzin, N.K., and Lincoln, Y.S., eds. Handbook of qualitative research, 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications. 279-314.

McGhee, R. 2008. Aboriginalism and the problems of Indigenous archaeology. American Antiquity 73(4):579--597.

Christopher Hanks

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Author:Hanks, Christopher
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2014
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