‘We were anything but primitive’: How Indigenous-led archaeology is challenging colonial preconceptions

‘We were anything but primitive’: How Indigenous-led archaeology is challenging colonial preconceptions

Unreserved54:00A brand new period of archaeology

When she was about eight years outdated, Jennifer Tenasco moved from her house group of Kitigan Zibi, Que., to Ottawa. Altering colleges meant she’d misplaced an necessary place to find out about her tradition: her classroom on reserve. 

“It was completely different as a result of there wasn’t lots of schooling [about] our folks,” she stated. “So I solely discovered my historical past by means of my members of the family.”

Years later, Tenasco is studying way more about her tradition and her ancestors at a distinct type of college — a federally-funded Indigenous archeological subject college known as Anishinabe Odjibikan. 

The varsity brings collectively younger members of the Algonquin communities of Kitigan Zibi in Quebec and Pikwakanagan in Ontario to dig up, clear and type objects utilized by their ancestors hundreds of years in the past. 

Tenasco and her fellow Anishinabe Odjibikan members learn to doc layers of earth and rocks, determine supplies and decide in the event that they’re native to the realm, use surveyor’s instruments and clear and reassemble pottery items discovered at a dig website.

WATCH: Indigenous Archaeological Discipline College’s first dig

Meet the Algonquin youth collaborating within the Indigenous Archaeological Discipline College’s first dig

‘I wish to be a part of the era that brings [our culture] again,’ says participant Bryton Beaudoin about why he’s taking on archaeology

They’re additionally doing archaeology in their very own manner: earlier than they begin to dig, they maintain a ceremony. 

“We drum and sing, and all of us smudge,” she stated. “It’ll open the location in a great way and say because of Mom Earth earlier than we dig into her.”

Anishinabe Odjibikan is a part of a rising development in archaeology of involving the Indigenous peoples whose lands are being excavated — with the work both being led by Indigenous folks, achieved collaboratively or carried out with their consent. 

For Tenasco, it connects her along with her ancestors and proves that they weren’t “primitive” peoples. 

“There’s lots of stereotypes [about Indigenous people],” Tenasco stated. “However if you see the precise artifacts, it simply makes me proud to be who I’m.”

Reclaiming historical past

Based on Cree/Métis archaeologist Paulette Steeves, the final century of archaeology has invalidated the pre-contact historical past of the Americas — and the individuals who lived there for hundreds of years. 

“College students will not be made conscious of the actually superb, superb accomplishments of people within the Western Hemisphere. It’s simply all ignored,” she stated in an interview with Unreserved host Rosanna Deerchild. 

Paulette Steeves stands in a classroom. She is wearing a green shirt and pointing at a piece of paper. Behind her, there are two large green plants and a map of the world.
‘We’ve to get to a spot the place there are much more folks from various backgrounds within the subject of anthropology and archaeology,’ says Paulette Steeves, a professor at Algoma College and Canada Analysis Chair in Indigenous Historical past, Therapeutic and Reconciliation. (CBC/Strolling with Ancients)

For instance, the oldest mummies on this planet had been present in South America and the most important pyramids are in Central America, Steeves defined. 

By ignoring the accomplishments and class of people in North and South America, the sector of archaeology bolstered adverse stereotypes, dehumanization and racism, Steeves continued.

“I assumed, ‘What can I do to assist convey hope to Indigenous folks?’ And it seems that reclaiming historical past does that.”

Steeves, who spent most of her tutorial profession in the USA and is now a professor at Algoma College in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., is making a reputation for herself by countering deeply-entrenched beliefs about how lengthy folks have populated North and South America.

With this work, she’s attempting to unerase Indigenous peoples’ previous histories to assist them really feel validated and hopeful as we speak.

Steeves says extra archaeologists are accepting her premise that folks have lived in North and South America for much longer than beforehand thought. She thinks it’s serving to to counter stereotypes and racism in opposition to Indigenous peoples.

That’s thanks, partially, to developments in expertise, together with gentle detection and ranging expertise, DNA evaluation and radiocarbon courting. But it surely’s additionally because of new minds and new views. 

The sphere has seen a “sea change … and I feel part of that could be a new era of archaeologists,” Steeves stated. 

“We’re coming into this eighth fireplace of therapeutic,” she continued. “That fireside has many flames … [it’s] all the students, Indigenous students, and their like-minded friends which might be engaged on items of reclaiming, reviving, rehumanizing worldviews of Indigenous folks.” 

Expertise of their ancestors

Kevin Brownlee’s view of archaeology as we speak is a far cry from what he discovered in regards to the subject in class.

“The schooling system within the ’70s and within the ’80s [stated that] Indigenous folks had been primitive; their expertise was primitive,” he stated. “After I first began in archaeology … folks that I bumped into inside the [Indigenous] group had been saying I used to be a traitor and that that is one thing that’s achieved to us and never by us.”

Kevin Brownlee stands in front of a museum display.
As an adoptee, Kevin Brownlee didn’t develop up realizing the place he got here from. His profession in archaeology helped him study extra about his household historical past and tradition. (Warren Kay/CBC)

Brownlee, who’s Cree, asserts that Indigenous peoples had immense talent and created instruments, clothes and constructed unbelievable buildings.

“I’m studying the right way to make stone instruments … [it] ain’t tremendous straightforward,” he stated. “You attempt to make these items, and so that you begin getting a greater appreciation of Indigenous information, Indigenous science [and] the truth that they had been engineers.”

Brownlee served because the curator of archaeology on the Manitoba Museum and is now the curator of Indigenous collections and repatriation on the Royal B.C. Museum. 

In his many years working within the subject of archaeology, he centered on bringing archaeology to Indigenous youth. This included inviting youth to digs to study the method of excavating a website and visiting school rooms to speak about his work. 

“Entering into the lecture rooms and speaking to the youth, you’ll see the Indigenous children within the class … popping out of their shell. They usually’re like, ‘It’s my historical past he’s speaking [about.] That’s my folks.’ They usually stand a bit bit taller,” Brownlee stated. 

“It’s so superior to see that instant response the place these children are feeling prouder of themselves and that they’re recognizing the talent of their ancestors,” he stated. “You already know, we had been something however primitive.”

A wide shot of several people at an archaeological dig site. The site is surrounded by trees and is next to a bike path.
Individuals from Pikwakanagan and Kitigan Zibi joined forces to dig into their shared historical past on unceded Algonquin territory over the course of eight weeks. (Submitted by Indigenous Archeological Discipline College)

‘We all know our historical past’

Indigenous oral historical past has by no means measured as much as scientific requirements, Jennifer Tenasco stated. 

However archaeology can accumulate information that matches into the western scientific information mould, “proving that our ancestors have been right here since time immemorial.”

“To me it’s simply bizarre when non-Indigenous individuals are telling our folks our personal historical past, after I really feel like … we all know our historical past,” Tenasco added.

“We ought to be telling them our historical past and never the opposite manner round.”

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