Field school is ‘learning first-hand’

A group of NDSU undergraduate and graduate students gained hands-on experience assisting John Creese, NDSU associate professor of anthropology, to survey and document Indigenous sites on tribal lands in Wisconsin.

Roshan Rai and Lauren Schluter are two students who participated in the summer field school. Both describe an unforgettable experience working alongside the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

“I would not have learned about Anishinaabe people in this way from a class,” said Rai, a recent anthropology graduate. “To learn first-hand from people living there and at the same time working together in the field is truly an awesome experience.”

The project gave students an opportunity to build relationships with tribal members in addition to increasing their understanding of modern archaeological techniques.

The team worked on excavating and cataloguing items in various sites throughout the Red Cliff Reservation. They also attended the Red Cliff powwow, a language camp and learned from community members about traditional foods. They said the well-rounded experience enhanced their time in the field.

“Experiences such as this one allow students to understand what archaeology represents and means to others due to the colonial nature and problematic history of the field itself,” Schluter said. “A greater perspective of this work doesn’t occur simply through the technical side of archaeological and curation methods on site, but through the ability to be involved and work alongside the Red Cliff community to assist in their goals of telling their own histories.”

Schluter, a master’s student in the sociology and anthropology department, is basing her thesis around her experience with Red Cliff and the field school.

“Without having had the opportunity to take part in the field school as a volunteer in 2019, I may not have been a master’s student at NDSU in the first place. It was that experience that led me to applying for the program,” she said.

The Geté Anishinaabe Izhichigéwin Community Archaeology Project is a collaborative effort between Creese, Heather Walder, an archaeology lecturer from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and Marvin DeFoe, Red Cliff’s tribal historic preservation officer. The project is in its third year. It aims to uncover artifacts and settlement sites related to the rich history of the Anishinaabe, or Ojibwe, people within the Red Cliff Reservation.

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