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  • Guest Editor's Remarks:Decolonizing Archaeology
  • Sonya Atalay (bio)

The Wisdom of Chickens

This collection of articles came about as the result of the professional relationships and friendships among a group of archaeologists who collectively call themselves the "Closet Chickens." The organization known as the Closet Chickens formally came into existence after extended e-mail discussions among a group of Native American archaeologists who had participated in a conference at Dartmouth College in 2001. The conference was titled "On the Threshold: Native American Archaeologist Relations in the Twenty-first Century," and it brought together a small group of Indigenous archaeologists from around the United States who were able to share their ideas and perspectives about being Native American archaeologists. The conversation started at this conference was continued via e-mail and resulted in the decision to maintain discussions as a more formal group.

In early e-mail correspondence a discussion arose over what to name the group. One participant suggested the name "Funky Chickens," while another scholar suggested including the word "grease" in memory of the movie they were watching while having that original discussion at Dartmouth. Soon the naming suggestions included the word "closet," after one member rejected another's offer of a closet in her small, crowded apartment for temporary lodging. The group was officially titled the Closet Chickens, and members soon began to find appropriate chicken-related names for each other, including Greasy Chicken, Chicken Noodle, Chicken Strips, and Chicken–a-la-Queen.

As the group's informal webpage notes: "One of the group's major goals is to ensure that there are too many Native American archaeologists [End Page 269] to fit into ANY closet." Additional members have been added to the Closet Chickens group, which now includes Native American and First Nations archaeologists and supporters. At recent archaeology and anthropology professional conferences, over a number of networking dinners and friendly coffee breaks, members of the group have developed a "secret" Chicken handshake, have been known to sing a Chicken song, and there are even plans to perform the Chicken Dance each year at the Society for American Archaeology professional meetings.

Amidst the joking and silliness of the Closet Chickens tales is a profound story of strength and perseverance. As have First Nations and other Indigenous groups globally, Native Americans in this country have faced, as part of the colonial process, the theft, appropriation, and misrepresentation of our history, cultural heritage, and intellectual and cultural property. Even the bodies of our ancestors were not sacred in this assault. As David Hurst Thomas and others have demonstrated so powerfully, the rise of archaeology played an intricate part in the colonization process, and the results of this conflict remain with us to this day.1 However, Native people in North America are not simply helpless victims of colonization; they are people who have actively found ways to work against Western and colonial practices to retain aspects of their traditional knowledge and lifeways. In an effort to regain control of their cultural resources, ancestral remains, and heritage, Indigenous people around the globe have played an active role in creating positive change in the field of archaeology. Scholars and activists have critiqued the discipline and practices of archaeology and anthropology—for example, they have protested such practices as displaying open burials for tourism and the display of human remains and sacred objects in museums. They have also worked with archaeologists and museum professionals to develop NAGPRA, important legislation that has resulted in the reburial and repatriation of thousands of our ancestors and sacred objects.2

In addition to such community activism and academic scholarship focused on making changes in the practice of archaeology from outside the discipline, Indigenous people have also chosen to work actively to improve the discipline of archaeology by advancing change from the inside, as professional archaeologists, excavation monitors, scholars working in tribal or national museums, and academic archaeologists. Each of the Closet Chickens has taken on this charge, and they face the difficult task of learning to facilitate change in a way that is both productive and [End Page 270] effective. As a member of the Closet Chickens myself, I can speak from firsthand experience to...


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pp. 269-279
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