Student aims to map Indigenous history of land in Edmonton's proposed annexation

A University of Alberta student is hoping her mapping project will help preserve sites significant to local First Nations before the swath of land between Edmonton and the international airport is developed.

'There's more than 150 years of heritage in Edmonton and I think we sometimes forget that'

Katherine Gadd, a master's student studying anthropology at the University of Alberta, has devised a method to map areas that could be significant to local First Nations on the lands involved in a proposed annexation between Edmonton and Leduc County. (Supplied by Katherine Gadd )

A University of Alberta student is hoping her mapping project will help preserve sites significant to local First Nations before the swath of land between Edmonton and the international airport is developed.

Katherine Gadd, who is pursuing a master's in anthropology, is trying to pinpoint sites that may have been inhabited or used by Indigenous peoples — and for what purposes.

She hopes it will provide a guide for archeologists evaluating historical significance. 

Sites could range from burial grounds to buffalo pounds to berry-picking patches still frequented today, she said. 

"The main goal is just getting the idea out there early that there's more than 150 years of heritage in Edmonton and I think we sometimes forget that, that people have been here an awful lot longer than that," Gadd said. 

How it works

Gadd, who undertook the project for a human geography and planning course, focused on the section of Leduc County that is part of a proposed annexation announced last year. 

It stretches from what was formerly the south city limit to the north end of the airport, and from Highway 2 west to the North Saskatchewan River. 

She used a method called heritage-potential modelling, which assumes past peoples used similar considerations of modern people when choosing places to hunt or camp.

It isn't necessarily looking at sites, "it's looking at potential locations for sites," Gadd said. 

She gathered provincial data on existing archeological sites in the area and isolated six that were relevant to First Nations prior to the arrival of Europeans.

Thinking there could be more, she then looked at data on the locations of natural resources, such as water and trees. 

"There are certain areas where you would want to set up camp and certain areas where you just don't want to set up camp.

"Right out in the middle of nowhere on a flat plain with the wind and everything else, where there's nothing around but prairie, may not be an ideal location," Gadd said.

"You're more more likely to want to be somewhere where you can get water easily and if it's winter, you're more likely to want to be somewhere where you can get wood for fuel."

Consulting with First Nations 

In light of legislation enacted in the 1970s, Alberta has been monitoring its archeological resources.

The concept of heritage-potential modelling gathered steam in the 1990s, helping developers to avoid areas that could have remains or artifacts which may increase project costs and timelines. 

Gadd, who worked in cultural resource management before her master's studies, said there are more sophisticated models.

She suggests the city builds upon her method and use it as an act of reconciliation when developing the annexed land . 

"Edmonton has a not great history of consulting with First Nations when sites of importance come up, but it is getting much better," Gadd said.

"And I know that the city is really interested in taking those things into consideration."  

roberta.bell@cbc.ca

@roberta__bell