sNAPAshots: Joe Watkins

[NAPA Logo] sNAPAshots: Conversations with Professional, Practicing, and Applied Anthropologists. Joe Watkins, PhD. Senior Consultant, The Archaeological and Cultural Education Consultants. PracticingAnthropology.org Twitter, Meta, LinkedIn Logos
This entry is part 24 of 24 in the sNAPAshots section
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Interviewer 0:01
[On screen image NAPA Logo] Welcome to Season 3 of sNAPAshots: Conversations with Practicing, Professional, and Applied Anthropologists. Let’s meet senior archeology consultant and anthropological ethicist, Joe Watkins. How did you get interested in anthropology?

Joe Watkins 0:18
I got interested in anthropology, really, through archaeology, my sub theory is archaeology. When I was 10 years old, I found a projectile point on my family homestead in southeast Oklahoma. My grandmother, let me know it wasn’t from our people that Choctaw, but that it was from the people who lived there before we moved into the area. So I got interested in old things and traces of the past at that time, I was really…I thought that I was going to be a paleontologist. But ultimately, I got more interested in the past of the people who lived in Oklahoma, so I became an archaeologist in that regard. Did my first Archaeological Survey in 1968, so been doing archaeology for a little over 55 years.

Interviewer 1:19
What is the one thing about the practice of anthropology that nobody told you as a student?

Joe Watkins 1:25
I think the big thing that nobody told me as a student about the practice of anthropology is that we really have impact. And we can have inadvertent impact, or we can have direct impact. And so I think over the past 15 or 20 years, anthropology has become much more aware of the impact that we have. We have a large number of specific groups who are forming anthropological societies, subgroups, to try to better influence the practice of anthropology, both in the academy, the practice of anthropology on indigenous groups, on minority groups, on communities. So I think we’re recognizing much more now that we do have impact. And we, we have obligations to the people we study, not only to ask permission, and to help tell their story. But also to recognize that occasionally, we might write things that have impact that might present communities in a negative scale. And so we just have to be careful that we have ethical responsibilities to think about what we say, what we write, and whose secrets we have we tell, even if they are our own secrets.

Interviewer 3:01
Was there a moment that changed the way you practiced anthropology?

Joe Watkins 3:05
Maybe, I think there are a lot of little bits and pieces that have happened. In my experience. When I was in my first year of graduate school, at Southern Methodist University, I match a Comanche man, very all and very looming individual named Leroy Mason. I was introduced as an archaeologist. And he said, “You’re not one of those gravediggers, are you?” And I said, No, not really, I I’ve never excavated the burial and I never hoped to. So that was in 1973. That was one of the things and looking back in 1969, before I actually when I was just starting undergraduate school at the University of Oklahoma. I picked up the August edition of Playboy magazine. And in that book, were excerpts of Vine Deloria[, Jr.]’s book, “Custer Died for Your Sins.” And I read that, and that really set the stage for me as well, because it made me realize that anthropology had very much been sort of a vampire culture in many ways. It had taken from tribal people, and it never really given anything back. Many of the anthropologists at that time, would descend on reservations in the summer, grab their data, run back home, write it up, publish it, do articles to help ensure their tenure, and then go back to next year. Tribes, as Vine Deloria really enforced, tribes really gained very little out of anthropology. So those two things kind of put in my head that the archaeology I wanted to practice was not an extractive one. But it was one that I wanted to do in conjunction with communities, with tribal people. And I wanted to try to find a way to take that information back. It took a while before I was able to, to actually do that sort of archaeology. But that’s sort of the way I hoped to practice archaeology. Now. It’s more of a community-based, indigenous-based archaeology with, by, and for indigenous people that benefit both the practice of archaeology and the practice of anthropology on a broad scale, and the communities whose past and whose histories we studied. So I think Vine Deloria and Leroy Mason both had a strong impact on me as a baby archaeologist, before I really started becoming a practicing one when I was still learning how to do archaeology.

Interviewer 6:36
What advice would you like to pass on to future anthropologists seeking roles and professional fields?

Joe Watkins 6:42
I would like to pass on the caveats to students or any other anthropologist who choose to participate in applied fields, history, really realize that anthropology should be a shared enterprise, we really shouldn’t sit in the so called “Ivory Tower”, looking down upon people passing judgment, looking at things from the outside, and trying to believe that our opinions are the only true opinions. I think, I would like for practicing anthropologists to realize that they need to have relationships with communities, with the people they study, they also need to realize that those relationships should be established before, before they need to be used. I think it’s important that conversations, communication with community members, with the people that the anthropologist wishes to study. I think that’s very important, because the communities have needs, that anthropologists can help them with, we may not be able to tell them, this is the way you need to do it. But we can say, if you do this, this is 1, 2, 3 or 4 likely outcomes. This is how we might ameliorate one outcome, this is how we might want to enforce another. So so much of it is communication with the people we are studying, with our communities. Also, I think we need to have a great deal more communication with each other as anthropologists, we need to realize that there’s some research that needs to be done. There’s probably a great deal of research that has already been done that may have been lost and that we need to rediscover. So. I would tell anthropologists literally practice, practice, practice, and try to find ways to create an anthropology that’s beneficial to the academy, to the community, and new students who are coming up in the field.

Interviewer 9:19
Thank you for sharing your experience as a practicing anthropologist. For more sNAPAshots, find us at PracticingAnthropology.org Meta, LinkedIn and X.

Credits 9:28
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Joe Watkins 9:29
My grandmother was a fullblood Choctaw Indian, but I spent a lot of time growing up with my grandmother and learned a lot about Choctaw stories, Choctaw animals, Choctaw ideas and plant uses and thoughts about well, if you do hear an owl from the direction of the cemetery, you’re going to hear if someone’s death soon. So just a lot of these little stories See that my grandmother passed on that I never really…never really took advantage of, but they’re still here. So, I think I learned, learned a lot about the family to the point that I have had become the history keeper of our family about on the Choctaw side of the family.

Interviewer 10:28
[On screen NAPA Logo] sNAPAshots

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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