- These Mysterious People: Shaping History and Archaeology in a Northwest Coast Communityby Susan Roy
The relationship between Indigenous peoples and the discipline of archaeology has been fraught with difficulties. In These Mysterious People, Susan Roy examines this complex relationship between archaeology and the Musqueam nation as a means of mapping the evolving relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. In this clever reversal, Roy examines the discourse surrounding the archaeological endeavours on the Northwest Coast as a means to examine Indigenous/settler relations, rather than the more familiar use of archaeology to examine Indigenous peoples as absent and silent subjects.
Roy's choice to examine the archaeological and anthropological discourse around the Musqueam nation through exploring the archaeological efforts on Musqueam territory makes for a rich and detailed illustration of the dynamics between colonialism, First Nations, and archaeology. While it has been understood for some time that ethnographic and archaeological discourses have supported colonialism through the transformation of Indigenous material culture into 'specimens', Roy uses the history of the archaeological projects in the Marpole Midden to trace the evolving relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. The resulting tale of grave-robbing and other 'specimen' collection on the Northwest Coast of Canada presents a history that vividly portrays First Nations' often inconvenient role to archaeologists as very much a living culture. Roy's discussion of archaeologists' attempts to classify human remains into 'prehistory' (artefacts predating European arrival), 'ethnographic' (artefacts from the time right before European arrival), and 'contemporary' (modern or assimilated) illustrates the incongruity between living First Nations and the aims of early archaeologists and ethnologists. Archaeologists, for example, were actually asking such questions as '[i]s it a cemetery protected by law, or is it an archaeological place which should be explored?' (p. 50).
The Musqueam nation is particularly fertile ground for this exploration, as Musqueam territory lies in the heart of one of Canada's most developed urban centres – Vancouver and its surrounding suburbs. Not only does Roy trace the evolving understanding of archaeology, but also masterfully illustrates the Musqueam First Nations' interruptions, interventions and ultimate use of the archaeological 'discoveries' for their own political, cultural, and legal purposes. As the urban landscape spread across the Northwest Coast, Roy illustrates that 'the Musqueam have increasingly appropriated archaeological methods and museum practices for their own community, land claims, and public education goals' (p. 145).
The rich context that Roy provides for the archaeological 'finds' and the museum exhibits they now adorn is a much needed supplement to the often sterile First Nations museum exhibits now populating museums of 'natural history'. The story Roy tells of the context surrounding the discovery of First Nation 'specimens' speaks to a different type of history and museum exhibit that should be developed. As Roy has done, these new narratives must be ones that illustrate the living cultures that co-existed with the archaeologists and anthropologists that were once seeking objects representing a 'vanishing' culture. These Mysterious Peopleis therefore an important and necessary text not just imagining a new type of historical discourse, but demonstrating it. [End Page 243]