anthro in the news 11/13/17

Chitimacha baskets from Louisiana. Credit: National Museum of the American Indian, Joseph Keppler Collection, gift of Dr. Margaret J. Sharpe.

ancestry rights and wrongs

The Washington Post described the efforts of a group of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw in asserting their identity and rights as American Indians. Environmental changes have made their current island home in the Mississippi delta uninhabitable, so they must relocate. Inaccurate documentation of their identity by a Smithsonian anthropologist in the early 20th century hampers their attempt to gain federal recognition which would give them a larger role in deciding about their new location. The good news is that the Smithsonian Institution is working with the community to support their ancestral claim while simultaneously improving their understanding of their collections. Some community members, including the chief, recently visited the Smithsonian. The connection they were able to make to the anthropological artifacts offers “an identity trajectory that can be proven,” explained Gwyneira Isaac, director of the Recovering Voices program. “It allows them to say, ‘These materials, these techniques, this way of life is our way of life.’”

activism for moral accountability

Gate to Mar-a-Lago. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/tommietheturtle.

Commons Dreams (Portland, Maine) published commentary by George Karandinos, an MD/PhD student in anthropology at Harvard University, and three co-authors who are also pursuing medical degrees. All four are health justice advocates. They write: “Over the course of the past year, several healthcare-related organizations have decided to stop holding fundraisers at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. Some of them had held annual events at Mar-a-Lago for decades, but given the president’s consistent escalation of racist, sexist, and transphobic comments and policies, these organizations felt that they could no longer financially support him. In addition to outcry from local and national communities, tenacious pressure from healthcare professionals was a key factor in this exodus from Mar-a-Lago, demonstrating the impact that our sustained engagement can have in successfully holding our institutions accountable. We write to highlight some successful elements of our campaign and to encourage our peers to speak up when their home institutions are not living up to their stated principles.”

rethinking volunteer tourism

The Conversation published a piece by Andrea Freidus, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She writes: “The problems outlined here do not necessarily mean that volunteer work should be abandoned. In an increasingly violent and xenophobic world, these kinds of cross-cultural engagement can help people understand and appreciate each other. But if this is to be achieved, volunteer experiences need to be reframed and programmes reworked…Many of these programmes are associated with college campuses or organised religious groups that have the capacity to learn about, teach, and support a more sophisticated cultural exchange…If volunteers can understand the people they work with as citizens with rights rather than objects of charity, they can begin to think about long-term partnership, justice and structural change.”

blood feuds

BBC carried an article about the continuing reform of state and judicial institutions required in Albania in order to eradicate blood feuding. The article quotes Olsi Lelaj, a researcher at the Institute of Social Anthropology and Art Studies in Tirana: “It’s not a matter of having a strong state institution but rather of having a just state institution. It is a matter of justice and a justice that is collectively shared.”

goodbye to bullshit jobs

La Tribune (France) reported about on the growing number of workers in France who are leaving their well-paid but boring and meaningless “bullshit jobs” in order to do something more meaningful. The article quotes David Graeber, professor of anthropology at the London School of Economic and inventor of the term bullshit job: “Le phénomène a été largement médiatisé et étudié ces dernières années, notamment par David Graeber, initiateur de la formule « bullshit jobs » (que l’on peut traduire par « boulots à la con »).”

take that anthro degree and…

…become an architect and heritage activist. Salima Naji is a Moroccan architect who specializes in construction that blends in with local traditions and the environment. Rather than using concrete, she favors adobe and mudbrick. “First I look at what’s available on the scene, rather than bring things in from elsewhere,” she said. She was baffled as to why “at a certain time people stopped building with local materials” and how they had “turned their back on this heritage.” Naji has an Architecte Diplômé from the Ecole nationale supérieure d’architecture de Paris La Villette and a Research Doctorate in anthropology from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales.

…do social research. Kiran Morjaria is a User Researcher at HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) in London. HM Courts & Tribunals Service is responsible for the administration of criminal, civil, and family courts and tribunals in England and Wales and for non-devolved tribunals in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It works with an independent judiciary to provide a fair, efficient and effective justice system. Morjaria has a Level 3 CeMAP (Certificate in Mortgage Advice Practice) from the IFS School of Finance, a B.A. in anthropology and law from the School of Oriental and African Studies, and a M.Sc. in social and cultural anthropology from University College London.

new orangutan species

As reported in The New York Times, a seventh great ape species has been identified: the Tapanuli orangutan of the highland forests of Indonesia’s island of Sumatra. While the population was discovered in 1997, it has taken the intervening 20 years to prove that it is a distinct species. The article quotes Biruté Galdikas, a Canadian primatologist who has studied orangutans for 46 years and led conservation efforts on the neighboring island of Borneo. She said she was pleased, but not surprised: “It was the talk 50 years ago, that there were two types, including one that had long fingers,” she said of descriptions made by residents of that area of Sumatra. “So what they have done is solidified the evidence, using anatomical evidence and genetic evidence, and evidence from the population.” Galdikas, who is president of Orangutan Foundation International, hopes that media attention over the announcement will further efforts to protect remaining orangutan populations of Borneo and Sumatra.

identifying war casualties

CBC Canada reported on the work of Sarah Lockyer, co-ordinator and lone forensic anthropologist of the Casualty Identification Program of Canada’s Department of National Defence. She travels twice a year to France to study the remains of Canadians found by construction workers or farmers in old battlefields. She usually carries back with her a piece of human bone for examination and creation of a DNA profile before returning it to France for burial.

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