Tribal Government & News
Grand Ronde-based dissertation receives national recognition
By Dean Rhodes
Smoke Signals editor
For five summers, University of Washington archaeology student Ian Kretzler was digging in the dirt of Grand Ronde.
During the summer of 2015, he was helping excavate the Umpqua encampment of the original Grand Ronde Reservation.
For the next four summers, he was working in the Molalla encampment.
All of his work is encapsulated in a dissertation, “An Archaeology of Survivance on the Grand Ronde Reservation: Telling Stories of Enduring Native Presence,” which was recently awarded the Society for American Archaeology’s 2021 Dissertation Award for the outstanding contributions it makes to the discipline.
The society is the largest professional archaeology organization in the United States. It recognizes one dissertation annually and Kretzler received a plaque and three years’ worth of free membership in the organization.
“Ian is the first archaeology graduate recognized for this honor who has conducted community-based research with a Tribal nation,” says Dr. Sara Gonzalez, an associate professor with the University of Washington’s Department of Anthropology. “For a field whose history of relations with Indigenous communities can be best characterized as extractive, Ian’s Tribally led approach to conducting heritage research with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde serves as a model for how our discipline might begin to transcend its colonial legacies by grounding research in the values of mutual respect, generosity and trust. I can say without hesitation that Ian and his work with Grand Ronde embodies these values, and in so doing is helping to transform the discipline and practice of archaeology in the 21st century.”
The 496-page dissertation draws on Gerald Vizenor’s concept of survivance, which centers on Native presence in all aspects of archaeology.
“In doing so, they address gaps in existing studies of European and U.S. colonialism and position archaeological research as counter to settler colonialism’s pursuit of Native absence,” Kretzler writes in his dissertation’s abstract. “They also challenge archaeologists to shed their self-appointed role as narrators of Native histories and work collaboratively with Tribal nations to bring stories of their ancestors into the present.”
Kretzler’s work while in Grand Ronde traced the development of 19th and 20th century settlement patterns and foodways on the Grand Ronde Reservation. During that time, he worked with many employees from the Tribal Cultural Resources Department, including Manager David Harrelson, Historic Preservation Manager Briece Edwards, Cultural Protection Specialist Chris Bailey and Senior Archaeologist Jessica Curtman.
“Being able to work in partnership with the staff at the Historic Preservation Office, with Briece Edwards and David Harrelson and really the whole staff there, really taught me what archaeology can look like if conducted with the oversight of a Tribe and in the interests of a Tribe,” he says during a 30-minute phone interview.
Edwards says that Kretzler’s dissertation is reflective of a change in archaeology that adds enrichment and contributes to a larger understanding of the Tribe’s history.
“It really has been about starting with community first, asking how he can contribute here,” Edwards says. “And out of that, good things came for the Tribe in terms of the work that he did. It also sets this example … We’re seeing this permanent change emerge within this discipline.”
“My thesis is that settler colonialism and archaeology have pursued the physical, political and/or cultural absence of Native peoples and thus unrestricted access to Native land, resources, bodies, material culture and knowledge,” Kretzler writes in the dissertation. “To counter these programs of absence – to transform archaeology into an anti-settler colonial practice – archaeologists must develop frameworks that center Native presence.”
Kretzler, 31, grew up in Longview, Wash., and attended Whitman College in Walla Walla, where he graduated magna cum laude in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. From there, he enrolled in the University of Washington, obtaining his master’s degree in 2014. The dissertation is part of his work to obtain a Ph.D. in anthropology.
“What drew me to archaeology in college was a combination of being able to learn more about the natural world, being able to be outside and understand geology, plants and animals and people’s relationships with them over a long period of time,” he says during the phone interview. “And understanding history, but understanding history in a way that was more long-term and had references to the landscape.
“As I was going through my undergraduate degree I realized that what really attracted me to archaeology, particularly in the United States, was a growing movement back then that is still going on today of Native people and Indigenous communities really pushing archaeology to recognize some of the failings that have run through the 19th and 20th century history of archaeology, of being very extractive in taking knowledge, objects and human remains away from Native lands.”
That experience, he says, made him pursue in graduate school the topic of Indigenous archaeology and de-colonializing the field.
He currently works for a private sector cultural resources protection firm in the Seattle area that performs work similar to that of the Tribe’s Historic Preservation Office. He says his experience working collaboratively with the Grand Ronde Tribe can be incorporated into his work in the private sector.
“The private sector is not immune,” he says. “It has inherited a lot of archaeology’s failings in some senses of its relationship with Tribes. It’s been an interesting transition. One where I can take the insights that I learned during the dissertation process and alter certain aspects of how we do things.”
Kretzler says he hopes the recognition of his dissertation is a beginning point in how archaeology can be transformed into something that positively adds value to Tribes’ understanding of their own culture and history.
In the closing of his dissertation, Kretzler writes that “it is my hope that the ties between belongings, people and places it created not only prove lasting but creates opportunities for future generations of Tribal members to come to know their history in ways they recognize as meaningful and valuable.
“It is my hope that this project contributes to the cultural resurgence and thriving of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and the composition of new survivance stories. And it is my hope that this dissertation, itself a product of hundreds of hours of effort and commitment by students, scholars, Tribal members and HPO (Historic Preservation Office) staff, inspires you to reflect on your relationships with Native lands, heritage and peoples – and to ensure that the stories you help tell are themselves stories of Native presence.”
Edwards says Kretzler’s dissertation is available to read at Chachalu Museum & Cultural Center’s Research Room.
“It is meant to be discoverable. It is meant to provide an opportunity for individuals to have conversations and, like all good research, be a start point on a wheel that should continue to roll,” Edwards says.