By Amanda Evans, Athena Trakadas, Dave Ball, and Antony Firth (organizers), on behalf of the panel

The ACUA, the Ocean Decade Heritage Network (ODHN), and the SHA UNESCO Committee organized a panel discussion[i] at the Society for Historical Archaeology’s (SHA) Virtual Annual Meeting, 06-09 January 2021. The panel, Intentionally Transformational: Supporting the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development through a Conversation on Inclusion, brought together cultural heritage practitioners for a discussion on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in marine archaeology, and particularly in support of the seven Societal Outcomes of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (Decade).

Given the relevance of discussions surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion, ODHN featured excerpts of panelists’ comments from three of the questions discussed during the panel session in a blog post on their website. One of the critical objectives of the Decade is to transform the practice of science and create better geographic, gender, and generational opportunities to participate in and benefit from ocean science. The ODHN blog post addresses questions of how archaeology might look at the end of the Decade, how to create a more diverse network of practitioners, and what individuals can do to foster greater diversity, equity, and inclusion. Continuing on from the ODHN blog, this post provides additional panel excerpts, and provides hyperlinks to several of the examples that were mentioned during the panel. We would like to express our gratitude to the panelists for their insightful comments and for sharing their time with us to discuss these important issues.

SHA Panelists Top L-R: Amanda Evans, Dave Ball, Irena Sorset. Middle L-R: Athena Trakadas, Hans Van Tilberg, Valerie Grussing. Bottom L-R: Jennifer McKinnon, Amy E. Gusick.

Panel Questions and Discussion Points

How does bias impact our understanding of the challenges to creating DE&I? Can we recognize the barriers to diverse communities and adequately develop processes to remove those barriers?

  • First step is to acknowledge/agree that we all have biases, then we can begin to move forward.
  • Inherent bias training can be helpful, but bias and diversity training programs don’t necessarily change institutional behavior or larger structural challenges such as hiring processes.
  • Listening is key, take the time to engage and listen to your audience. Rather than building on a point, embrace the silence, then ask open questions to encourage people to share their stories (e.g., how would you like us to move forward, can you provide us with examples of how to best engage with your community). This takes intentional self-retraining and regular reminders.
  • Put yourself at a different starting point, don’t think of yourself as the expert. Acknowledge that you’re working with experts that have their own cultural knowledge/heritage.
  • Seek out understanding of how to approach communities with different cultural norms. It is ok to admit that you may not know how to approach different communities. Ask for advice, ask what is appropriate. Ask yourself why you choose a particular community to contact.

How does the community of current practitioners shape the research and questions asked? What materials do we use and what is the intent?

  • Traditionally, formal training in maritime archaeology focused heavily on nautical technology, which was almost inherently biased toward Euro-American commercial expansion and shipwreck properties. While fascinating topics, the resulting bias has been to the detriment of other narratives, world views, and other types of submerged cultural heritage sites. Shipwreck sites are useful for public engagement, but not everyone is represented in that history.
  • Think about what other voices are not being heard. Indigenous narratives, and those from under-represented communities, can enhance the story. Encourage people from under-represented communities to share their stories, as appropriate. Let them know that what they have to say is important. It falls to us as professionals to make people understand that what they have to say is important to a broader understanding.
  • If we tell more stories, we get more people involved and this can encourage a more diverse practitioner population. We need to start in the classroom, demonstrating that there are options. Exposure to these principles at a young age, as well as moving forward with identifying how we as professionals can amplify other people’s voices to tell their own stories, is important to moving the field forward.
  • Systems of institutional racism and historical oppression/trauma can influence people doing the work. While we are beginning to see a change, in part, this is also a question about foundational education/training systems.
  • When developing research topics, it is important to develop a multi-vocal approach, looking at history from multiple perspectives. For example, when working on WWII US heritage sites in the Pacific, it is important to understand these sites as shared heritage, where Pacific Islanders are the stewards of these sites. Consider how to engage local communities in thinking about that as well. Often these heritage sites include an ecosystem of fishes/corals that supports local families. There may also be oral histories that enrich the WWII narrative. The collection of oral histories from indigenous people that experienced the battle is as important as measuring site dimensions.
  • Diversity is not just ensuring that we have a diverse audience. We must also strive for DE&I at the management level, the engagement level, and at the practitioner level.

How can we (as researchers, teachers, scientists) further support the work of the Ocean Decade Heritage Network, in terms of inclusivity and more broadly?

  • Statements on protecting resources, ocean literacy, and living heritage of communities are important, but they should have actions attached as well. Those should be developed and included on websites. Acknowledge the relationship that local communities have with the ocean (both past and present).
  • Where possible, encourage anyone with research in the ocean science to incorporate the principles of the Decade into their outreach/research/exhibits.

How does the conversation on DE&I align with the intent of the Decade?

  • The discussion of DE&I is similar to the cultural landscape approach. In terms of maritime heritage and archaeology, one of the questions to consider is, will your activities have an impact on tribal nations/indigenous groups? To even ask the question presumes that we understand their world perspective and what resources are of importance. If you don’t understand the perspective or landscape of people that have been there thousands of years, you can’t possibly answer the question of whether your activities will have a significant impact on their cultural practices or their resources. This is where a cultural landscape approach is beneficial, it forces us to take a deep look at the geographical area where we are conducting these activities. How do we know what we don’t know, how do we answer those questions to begin to take into account improving diversity?
  • Over the course of the Decade we need to expand our knowledge and our reach to make sure we are including everyone that we could be including. How do we document/measure the impact of inclusivity? How do we know what/who we are not including? ODHN is trying to organize events like this panel session to continue the discussion so people become more aware of what they’re not thinking about.
  • What we are talking about is a cultural change and paradigm shift within the discipline.

Additional Resources

[i] Session panelists included: Valerie J. Grussing (National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers), Amy E. Gusick (Natural History Museum Los Angeles County), Jennifer F. McKinnon (East Carolina University), Irina T. Sorset (Marine Archaeologist, RPA), and Hans K. Van Tilburg (NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries). The panel was organized by David Ball (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management), Antony Firth (Ocean Decade Heritage Network), Amanda M. Evans (Gray & Pape, Inc.), and Athena Trakadas (Ocean Decade Heritage Network).

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