Teachers should be aware of the controversy between archaeological
interpretation of history and traditional knowledge. Specifically,
many Indian people disagree with the Bering Strait theory. Most tribes
believe that they originated in their homeland, not in some foreign
continent. This issue is addressed in OPI's Essential Understanding
Regarding Montana Indians 3: "each tribe has its own oral histories,
which are as valid as written histories."
For more information on this controversy and for two views of the
Vine Deloria, Red Earth, White Lies, Native Americans and the Myth of
Scientific Fact (New York, 1995).
For an archaeologist's perspective, see Stuart Fiedel, "Initial
Human Colonization of The Americas: An Overview of the Issues and the
Evidence," Radiocarbon 44: 2 (August 2002): 407-436.You can access
the article, in PDF format or search for the article on the
University of Arizona's Digital Commons website. Be aware that
this article may take a long time to load.
Given the intense feelings around this debate, this chapter might be a
good place to explore with your students how we know what we know.
There are three equally valid ways to learn about the lives of ancient
1) from oral histories of contemporary people, which
provide information, histories and ways of understanding passed down
through orally instead of in writing;
2) from archaeology, the scientific study of physical remnants of
human activity in the past; and
3) from anthropology, the study of contemporary people and cultures
who may live most like the ancient people lived.
Until recently the oral traditions of Indian cultures
have been overlooked and undervalued by non-Indians. This is one
reason that, as OPI puts in Essential Understanding 6, "histories are
being rediscovered and revised," and that "History told from an Indian
perspective conflicts with what most of mainstream history tell us."
(Another reason, of course, has to do with subjectivity and point of
Another useful framework to explore this potential paradigm shift
might be the idea of the "canon" - the body of knowledge widely
accepted to be true. In the study of history and other disciplines,
knowledge included in the canon is taught as fact.
As people learn new things about our world, the canon changes.
Sometimes new knowledge leaps ahead, and it takes the canon a while to
catch up. For example, in the fifteenth century most people thought
that the sun revolved around the earth. Even after Copernicus
(1473-1543), and other scientists figured out that the earth revolved
around the sun, it took many years for this knowledge to be accepted
into the canon and to be taught to others as fact.
Some facts that may help us learn more about human history are not
included in the canon, and so they are not taught. Sometimes beliefs
are so strong they prevent people from seeing evidence that is there.
This was true of astronomy in Copernicus's time. Is it true of the
archaeology in our time?
Ice Age people, courtesy Montana Department of
Detail, Camas Gathering, Gary Schildt, Montana Historical
Warrior with bow and arrow from Pictograph Cave,
courtesy Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and MSU COT
Oscar Lewis at Pictograph Cave, photo by Bill
Browne, Montana Historical Society Photo Archives PAc 90-96 Sheet