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Reviewed by:
  • The Sound of Silence: Indigenous perspectives on the historical archaeology of colonialism ed. by Tiina Äikäs and Anna-Kaisa Salmi
  • George Nicholas
The Sound of Silence: Indigenous perspectives on the historical archaeology of colonialism
Edited by Tiina Äikäs and Anna-Kaisa Salmi. New York; Oxford: Berghahn Press, 2019.

“How can archaeology engage with colonial histories, which are still painful and traumatic, in fruitful and ethically sustainable ways? How can archaeologists relate to Indigenous communities who are affected by these histories? What new perspectives can archaeology bring forth, and how can archaeology contribute to current discussions on colonialism past and present?” (182). These three questions, posed by Carl-Gosta Ojala in his Discussion chapter, frame this collection of reflections and case studies by European, Australian and North American scholars. The result is a timely and refreshing exploration of colonialism and Indigenous peoples that complicates, not reiterates, our understanding of the topic.

Archaeology—the study of material culture—has a vital role to play in the study of colonial encounters. It not only offers a less biased (although often incomplete) counterpart to historical documents, but also a means to extend this study back in time. Coupling archaeology with a global comparative approach, as is done here, helps to reveal different responses and modes of resistance both within and between regions and indeed continents.

The contributors demonstrate that colonialism is a two-way encounter, one that is reflected in both social responses and material culture—the colonizers and the colonized influence each other. In the various case studies offered, Indigenous agency—to resist or not; to incorporate or not, to integrate or not… is interrogated not just in theory (i.e., what could be the outcome) but in practice (i.e., what the archaeological record and historical records reveal). In addition, three common themes are identified and discussed by the editors in their introductory chapter: 1) Indigenous people’s re-appropriation of colonizer-produced goods; 2) colonization and cultural appropriation as ongoing processes; and 3) potential and limitations of historical archaeology in representing Indigenous voices. Colonialism and its progeny are thus not historic relics but continue to affect Indigenous peoples today.

There is considerable resonance in the mix of Scandinavian, Australian and American case studies. Three chapters examine Sámi relations with and responses to various colonial entities. Mulk and Bayliss-Smith examine changes to Sámi religious practices (re: inclusion, syncretism and displacement) over a span of 2,000 years to reveal that Forest Sámi, Mountain Sámi and already “sedentized” Sámi responded differently to external religious influences, as tracked by such archaeological indicators as grave goods, rock art and votive offerings. The everyday life of Sámi in transcultural mining communities in seventeenth-century Swedish Lapland is the focus of Nurmi’s chapter. Not only did northern Sámi have a significant role in the development and success of mining there, but influenced trade and the foodways of their neighbors. Changing food culture is commonly seen as a consequence of colonialism. Yet as Kylli, Salmi, Äikäs and Aalto demonstrate, there was a two-way flow between, and indeed hybridization of, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Sámi, Scandinavian and Finnic foodways that is incompletely recorded in written documents but exposed by archaeology.

Each of the American case studies examine explicitly destructive Indigenous encounters with state institutions (two colonial forts, a boarding school). In Louisiana, Malischke’s archaeological/ethnohistoric study of Fort St. Pierre, an early eighteenth-century French garrison and trading post, illuminates relations between the Yazoo, Koroa and Ofo peoples and the French and earlier English incursion into their homeland, and also with other Native American polities, like the Chickasaw. She notes that, although no long extant, the Yazoo, Koroa and Ofo resisted cultural and political domination by the French. A much different situation unfolded at Fort Snelling in Minnesota, as Hayes notes in her startling introduction: “There can be no indifference by a people for a place they regard as a site of both genesis and genocide” (162). After 40 years of negotiated co-existence, this locale, which had been occupied by the Dakota for millennia, became a place of incarceration. Today, the...


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