Since its inception, the history of American anthropology has been intertwined with a record of extractive research conducted on Indigenous communities. Anthropologists have often assigned themselves the status of “expert” over the cultural narratives and social histories of the first cultures of the Americas. As “experts” many anthropologists have neither respected Indigenous knowledge systems and community contributions nor addressed the intended and unintended impacts of anthropological research on those communities. Some anthropologists now acknowledge the harms that have been caused by researchers in the discipline, but it remains the case that anthropology must explicitly address the need to change its ways.
The process of healing after an abusive relationship takes time, but it has to start somewhere. The first step for healing starts with a formal and honest acknowledgment and apology of anthropology’s exploitation of Indigenous communities, identities, and cultures, and the harms caused by our extractive research. Only then can Indigenous communities begin interrogating the power dynamics and impacts of American anthropology’s hegemonic narrative.
To initiate a process of truth and reconciliation that restores respect for Indigenous peoples and their sovereignty, on behalf of the American Anthropological Association, I hereby acknowledge, and apologize for, the traumatic effects of anthropology’s enduring legacy on Indigenous communities. Our Association is committed to do what is in its power to begin an urgently needed conversation on changing power dynamics and reforming the production of knowledge in the discipline.
Dr. Akhil Gupta