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High Stakes: A Poly-Communal Archaeology Of The Pocumtuck Fort, Deerfield, Massachusetts

The process of defining heritage is fraught with the inequalities of social and political power concomitant with colonialism. As a result, disenfranchised and marginalized groups worldwide have been given little say in heritage matters until recently. Though often perceived as "experts" on the past, archaeologists are just one of many stakeholders with interests in how the past is used in the present. As such, archaeologists today face the challenge of decolonizing heritage work through engagement with diverse stakeholder communities. In this dissertation, I explore the ways that archaeologists have been working at this over the last two decades through a variety of community-based approaches to the archaeological dimensions of heritage work. I propose a multi-stakeholder model--what I call a "poly-communal approach"-- that builds on and address several shortcomings I identify in these efforts. This approach engages diverse local and non-local stakeholders in collective heritage work that aims to restructure traditional power relationships in archaeological projects. I explicate this approach and, through a case study, evaluate its effectiveness as a tool for decolonizing practice and dominant histories. The case study focuses on the social relationships of multiple stakeholders (Native American descendant communities, heritage institutions, archaeologists, landowners, avocational archaeologists, local residents, and scholars) catalyzed by the archaeology of a seventeenth-century Native American site in Deerfield, Massachusetts. The site, believed to be a fortified place of Pocumtuck peoples, plays a critical role in the dominant English and early American colonial history commemorated in the town for a century. The Pocumtuck Fort is popularly, though inaccurately, believed to be the last place the Pocumtuck lived before they "disappeared" just prior to the first English settlement in Deerfield and this dominant narrative has contributed to historical erasures of Native American peoples in the New England interior. Here, I combine a poly-communal approach to heritage work, archaeological research, and current fieldwork in this case study. I conclude that poly-communal heritage work, like that of the Pocumtuck Fort Archaeology and Stewardship project, can transform sites of historical erasures to places that mobilize and facilitate intercultural discourse and action, demonstrating that heritage and the power to mobilize the past can be shared.
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