Artifact Repositories Bad for Licensees...Until

  • February 12, 2017 8:54 AM
    Message # 4605246

    We are getting requests from local municipalities to identify collections within their jurisdiction to be transferred to some sort of local repository.  It is interesting that suddenly there is all of this interest from municipalities that never took any such initiative before.  Why?  Clearly, although they are al purporting to be local repositories, they are not.  I suspect these are all just geographic categories in the Centres for Sustainable Archaeology that are being represented as local repositories.

    What most probably do not know is that the Centres for Sustainable Archaeology have failed utterly to meet their funding requirements to secure milestone numbers of collections linked to their funding.  This latest scheme is about leveraging your collections to keep their money flowing.

    I note they are now circulating letters from MTCS signed by Mr. Sherratt encouraging licensees to cooperate with this program.

    I think licensees would be ill advised to surrender their collections without some measures in place to protect themselves.  Currently, as a matter of common law (and that goes well beyond MTCS or the Ontario government), the collections are actually the property of the landowner.  This is why MTCS has never directly taken control of them; They have no party status on the question of ownership.  By having you deposit your collections at some NGO repository, they sidestep the very significant legal issue that they actually have no claim on them.  

    However, you may find yourself embroiled in some hotly contested legal claims over artifacts between the First Nations who want them returned and artifact repositories attempting to centralize them against the wishes of First Nations.  In an era where jurisdictions around the world are decentralizing collections and repatriating them, why is Ontario looking at doing the exact opposite?

    In the past, MTCS has attempted to direct people to turn over artifact collections and when this was challenged through legal claims, they dropped the issues immediately as advised by the Attorney General for the Province of Ontario.

    Now we have the OAS claiming to represent the profession and making the issue of collections transfers an ethical matter.  This means that theoretically they could use the "ethical" requirement in the Conditions of an Archaeological License as a means of suspending or revoking licenses.  However, this may be illegal as well since it would probably be subject to immediate law suits if any organization was to attempt to damage a professional practice through so-called ethical violations which are actually contrary to law. Basically, you can't say someone has breached a code of ethics that enforces illegal action, such as giving away property that is not yours.

    When the MTCS was advised that they could have any collections they wanted if they indemnify licensees against any subsequent action against them resulting from subsequent analysis or loss or damage to collections, they absolutely refused.  Why? We have seen Mr. Sherratt's understanding of a compliance program.  We have seen that in the past the licensees must make up for the defects at MTCS such as recovering lost clearance letters, reports, or filling in massive blocks of data that MTCS neglected for the first 30 years of their operations.  What do you think would happen if they lost one or more of your collections (as they do with everything it seems) but never signed off on them as accepting responsibility after delivery?  Don't be a fool.  

    Hand over nothing unless every single piece is photographed and they sign off on each and every item.  Once you hand over your evidence, anybody can say anything about the sites you have worked on and contradict your work which can have implications for license review and you will have no evidence to argue the point if it is out of your hands.

    Finally, there is the issue of cost.  Anyone that has been around for a few years has probably invested thousands of dollars in bins and bags and tags and costs for storage space.  Who is going to pay for that?  Are we just supposed to give away all of this investment without compensation?  Who is going to pay to re-catalogue these collections and re-box them according to what these various repositories demand that are suddenly cropping up all over the place?  It costs money to even go through all of these collections to figure out which ones apply to various proposed repositories, but there is no offer to compensate anyone for the enormous time it would take to answer basic questions about collections.

    We need to start asking a lot of questions and we need full disclosure from MTCS as to exactly how this is supposed to work and who is accepting responsibility for the collections.  Nobody should consider for a moment handing over collections where they remain responsible and where the collections can be used to re-examine your work from years or even decades ago.


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