Reaffirming relationships: U of S department of archeology and anthropology apologizes for historical wrongdoings

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On Oct. 24, the department of archeology and anthropology released a statement on reconciliation during an event held at the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre. This statement follows the department’s 50th anniversary at the University of Saskatchewan.

As part of the department’s 50th anniversary lecture series, the statement of apology was created in consultation with Indigenous leaders and Elders and is said to follow the path of the university’s plans for reconciliation. In the statement, the department apologizes for a lack of respect shown towards Indigenous people in the early years of the field.

James Waldram, an anthropology professor at the U of S, drafted the statement and says that it was important for the department of archeology and anthropology to address their historical wrongdoings.

“We felt that we had a moral obligation to look at the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action and figure out how can we do something meaningful,” Waldram said. “We thought, ‘Why don’t we fashion a statement that acknowledges the wrongdoings of the past and articulates how we do the work today and why we do the work in this particular way as part of a disciplinary process of reconciliation?’”

Jamie Lafleur, a fourth-year anthropology honours student, spoke at the event wherein the statement was delivered. She says that the statement can help to repair the relationship between researchers in the department and wronged Indigenous communities.

“A statement of reconciliation along with a course of action is what we all need in order to heal and improve these once strained relationships between researchers and our communities,” Lafleur said.

The interior of the Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre at the U of S.

Lafleur says that Indigenous people now have more space and acknowledgement in academic research than ever and that participation and information sharing is valued.

“I want Indigenous people to know that our voices will now be actually heard,” Lafleur said. “We are now active participants in research rather than subjects, as we were once referred to in the past.”

For Lafleur, the statement from the department of archeology and anthropology is indicative of improvement in reconciliation conversations.

“For decades, all of our disparities — whether it is within health care or the educational system — due to colonialism have always been known as an ‘Indian problem’ and that we as Indigenous people are supposed to fix it all on our own. This isn’t what reconciliation is, and I think our department is what will help forge our path to better qualities of life by working together,” Lafleur said.

Lafleur believes that her experience as an Indigenous student who studies anthropology attests to the progress that the department has made.

“I have found a home as an Indigenous student in the department,” Lafleur said. “I have never felt more supported and more valued as an academic than I have here, and I think that says a lot about how far [the department] has come in terms of nurturing relationships between the department and Indigenous people,” Lafleur said.

Although an important step to reaffirm relationships, Waldram says that the statement is just the beginning of the department’s efforts for reconciliation.

“That statement would bind the department to future actions. This will not just be a one-off thing,” Waldram said. “We have started our conversation on what the next things will be.”

The department of archeology and anthropology is hosting five lectures in a series entitled 50th Anniversary Lecture Series 2018-19: Archeology and Anthropology in an Era of Engagement and Reconciliation. The next lecture in this series will be held on Thursday, Nov. 8 from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. in Arts 102 and will be delivered by U of S Professor Clinton Westman.

Sam Campling

Photo: Riley Deacon / Photo Editor

An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to James Waldram as an archaeology professor. He is actually an anthropology professor. We apologize for this error. If you spot any errors in this or any other Sheaf article, please email them to for correction.