Unearthing Understanding

by Brianna Kuplent

Horizon Reporter

Just south of the Canadian-United States border, Blaine, Washington is home to Peace Arch Park, a busy marina, and the Semiahmoo resort on the Semiahmoo spit. Thousands of years ago, it was also home to a settlement of Native Americans. Evidence of their culture was unearthed in 1999 when the city of Blaine was beginning to build a wastewater treatment plant near the spit, and by chance was building on a burial site.

For Alyson Rollins, an anthropology professor at Whatcom Community College, working on the site was her first job after she received her master’s in biological sciences from Western Washington University.

“After I finished my degree at Western, this burial disturbance came up,” said Rollins, who added that finding a job related to one’s field after graduating rarely happens.

            Since then, Rollins has been working for the Lummi Indian Business Council, and has been returning the remains to be reburied. She sorts the human remains from the animal remains as part of the process for reburial.

            Tens of thousands of artifacts have been dug up from the site, said Rollins. The artifacts are then returned, or repatriated, to the Lummi Indian Nation.

            “Obviously the living people and their cultural values play into how we do our work,” said Rollins. “I feel like my role is to help them repatriate their ancestors in every way I can.”

            Rollins is also a consultant for the Cultural Resources Management Company, which specializes in protecting and managing remains that are cultural resources. As a professor, Rollins teaches survey of anthropology and biological anthropology at Whatcom, and also teaches introduction to human origins at Western.

            With four jobs, Rollins says that she’s “trying to fit everything in.”

            Her job as a professor did not become a part of her life until the opportunity was offered and her mentor at Western recommended it.

            “I love teaching,” said Rollins. “I like the interaction with my students, and learning so many things from them all the time.”

            For her jobs in the field and in the classroom, the different aspects in Rollins’ field of study make her job continually interesting.

            “We study both biology and culture,” said Rollins. “Generally, anthropology is holistic. It encompasses all aspects of the human condition.”

            Outside of the classrooms and away from the burial sites, Rollins spends her free time outside.

            “I love to ride my mountain bike and walk my dogs,” said Rollins, who owns a Schnauzer and a mutt. “I also love spending time in the outdoors, like hiking. I’m also trying to get into kayaking.”

            After many years working at the burial site and the thousands of remains and artifacts that Rollins has helped return to the Lummi Indian Nation, she doesn’t become personal with the objects that she works with.

            “For me, it’s not about the things,” said Rollins. “The most important part to me is for the Lummi people to find closure and to take care of their ancestors.”

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