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Introduction to Anthropology

19.4 Applied and Public Anthropology and Indigenous Peoples

Introduction to Anthropology19.4 Applied and Public Anthropology and Indigenous Peoples

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Explain how tribal cultures are using anthropology to secure rights to sites of cultural significance.
  • Describe how anthropologists and Native scholars aid Indigenous peoples using anthropology.
  • Discuss how Indigenous peoples create networks to help one another.

Applied anthropology, which applies anthropological research and methods to contemporary problems, addresses much of the critique of anthropology offered by Vine Deloria Jr. and others. Many Indigenous peoples have become active participants in applied anthropological research, both seeking out and collaborating with anthropologists to work on projects that they themselves have defined. Many tribes now take a directive approach with researchers, offering contracts and funding for anthropologists who will work on issues that the tribes think are important. As tribes develop their reservation infrastructure, many have established archaeology programs to protect their rights to sites of importance. Many have asked scientists to create GIS (geographic information system) products, which feature layers depicting various resources and characteristics on a map, to manage their lands and help them effectively consult with states, the federal government, and private agencies. The layering of information in the GIS can create deeply immersive maps and models that include information about types of vegetation, the environmental history of lands, changes to lands, and any other information than can be captured and mapped. Layered information can be activated or removed from a map to meet specific aims. Tribes can now reference both the information available through scholarly studies and information about their lands and peoples from their own internal studies, which they do not typically share outside of the tribe. In many ways, tribes are now more knowledgeable about the archaeology of their territory than most institutions and are making plans to protect and preserve cultural sites and resources.

Public anthropologists aim to engage with communities and involve the general public in their work as much as possible. In doing so, they empower communities to address their own problems. Many public anthropologists publish their research in readily accessible formats, such as newspapers and popular magazines. The Internet offers many ways for public anthropologists to reach a broader audience. Blogs and digital journals make it possible for anthropologists to make information broadly available in order to benefit the greatest number of people.

The author of this chapter, David Lewis, describes his own efforts to make anthropological research more readily available:

I produce a blog, the Quartux Journal, which I began in 2014. At that time, I was engaged in a decade-long series of studies of the tribal peoples of western Oregon. Years of research had given me much to write about. The blog offered a means of releasing that information quickly and without charge to a broad group of colleagues and the public who desired information about Native peoples. Many of my readers are educators seeking content for high school or college classes they are teaching about Native peoples. This blog began at a time when Native groups and the state of Oregon were developing Native curricula for public schools, and it has become an essential curriculum tool for educators in the region. Educators have written back about the lack of resources and the great aid the blog has offered in filling their need for facts about the tribes of Oregon. The blog has now grown to more than 450 essays about tribal peoples throughout western Oregon and beyond. Its essays are easily read in about 10 minutes and are not jargon laden. There are currently more than 1,000 subscribers to this blog. The essays have inspired additional research on Native peoples’ history and has lent Native contextual details to local studies of the histories of Oregon.

Mini-Fieldwork Activity

Research Activity: Native American Peoples


Conduct research into Edward S. Curtis’s photographs of Native North American peoples. The majority of his images are online in the Library of Congress Edward S. Curtis Collection.

After picking at least one image, research the circumstances under which Curtis took the photograph. Curtis himself offers clues to his subject and location, sometimes even identifying his subjects by name. Then, research the tribe the subject(s) was or were a part of, including where the tribe was living at the time the photo was taken and their socioeconomic situation. Expect to conduct research to locate the correct historic sources. Finally, compare the culture portrayed in the photo and noted by Curtis’s information with your research findings. Note differences and ways in which Curtis may have altered the context.

One reference for research is the video Edward Curtis: Photographing the North American Indian, available from the Smithsonian Institution.

Present your research in a formal report of 3–5 pages, including full references and the image being researched.

Suggested Readings

Biolsi, Thomas, and Larry J. Zimmerman, eds. 1997. Indians and Anthropologists: Vine Deloria, Jr., and the Critique of Anthropology. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Deloria, Vine, Jr. (1969) 1988. Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Deloria, Vine, Jr. (1970) 2007. We Talk, You Listen: New Tribes, New Turf. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Deloria, Vine, Jr. (1995) 1997. Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact. Golden, CO: Fulcrum.

Deloria, Vine, Jr. 1999. Spirit & Reason: The Vine Deloria, Jr., Reader. Edited by Barbara Deloria, Kristen Foehner, and Sam Scinta. Golden, CO: Fulcrum.

Deloria, Vine, Jr. 2003. God Is Red: A Native View of Religion. 3rd ed. Golden, CO: Fulcrum.

Harrison, Faye V., ed. 2011. Decolonizing Anthropology: Moving Further toward an Anthropology for Liberation. 3rd ed. Arlington, VA: American Anthropological Association.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. 1986. Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Said, Edward W. 1978. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon Books.

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 2021. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. 3rd ed. London: Zed Books.

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