All in a day's work: Dene archaeologist following his dream, reconnecting with roots
Jéan Sexsmith, who loves Indiana Jones, quit his job as a security guard and became an archeaologist
Jéan Sexsmith isn't afraid to admit it.
"I loved Indiana Jones as a kid," he laughs.
Sexsmith is a Dene anthropologist who's been working at Yellowknife's Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre for the last year and a half. Originally from Hay River, Sexsmith decided to make a career move a few years back — leaving behind his job as a security guard to connect with his roots.
"I basically had always had a fascination with archaeology as a child, reading National Geographic magazines, stories about Mayan pyramids and Peruvian temples," says Sexsmith.
"And I figured, you know what, follow your dream. Go do what you've always been interested in."
Now, the 37-year-old is spending his days knee-deep in his heritage as the museum's visitor services intern. This past week he helped put on a traditional stone tool making workshop. He also gives tours to visitors, students and dignitaries from all over the world.
"As a result, many people come away with a better understanding, a little bit more knowledge, not only about who Aboriginal people are, Dene people are, but why we want to keep these traditions alive," he says.
Things changed for Sexsmith back in 2007 when his band, the West Point First Nation, went into third party management. He says community members couldn't get any answers about how it would affect their land claim and treaty negotiations.
So Sexsmith decided to do something about it. He enrolled in the University of Alberta and ultimately earned a degree in native studies, with a double minor in archeology and Aboriginal governance.
"I don't wake up lamenting, oh gosh, I have to go to work now," he says.
Sexsmith is in the second year of his internship, and according to a spokesperson at the museum, "has enjoyed his placement so much he would like to continue in a field that combines culture and heritage and education."
Sexsmith says the new job gives him the opportunity to explore Dene heritage and share his culture with others.
And he still enjoys getting his hands dirty.
"Whenever I have a chance to work making a stone tool, for me it's kind of a spiritual process," says Sexsmith.
He recalls unearthing tools that were thousands of years old as a child and as a university student.
"Whenever I've ever held a stone tool coming out of the soil… you're going back in time and you are now making a connection with that person, that individual who sat there, making that stone tool," he says.
"You can feel that intent. You can feel that process. You can feel the thinking behind it. To have that opportunity to just kind of be transported back in time is very unique and it's an amazing experience."
With files from Lawrence Nayally