Program aims to preserve Indigenous history with archeological site training

A unique program aiming to preserve Indigenous history has been training people to monitor archeological sites, identify artifacts and learn about their history.

Program coordinators say it's important proper care is taken of Indigenous artifacts

Rochelle Smith is the events and promotions coordinator for the Treaties, Lands and environments department with the Chippewa of the Thames First Nation. (Submitted by Rochelle Smith)

A unique program aimed at preserving Indigenous history is gearing up again this spring to train people to monitor archeological sites, identify artifacts and learn about their history.

A new session of the First Nations Archeology Monitoring Training Program, offered by the Oneida Nation of the Thames, is set to start next week in southwestern Ontario.

The five-day virtual course takes participants through archeological monitoring regulations and protocols, identification of artifacts and various field methods. It's run five sessions since it was created in 2013 and approximately 80 individuals have completed the training. 

"We want to make sure that there was due diligence and [ensure] proper care is taken of our artifacts and our history and it is properly documented," Rochelle Smith, the events and promotions coordinator for the Treaties, Lands and environments department with the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation.

Youth who have been trained said the field work was hard, but exciting because of the unknown discoveries they may stumble upon, she said. 

One particularly interesting find was a pipe with carvings etched on and estimated to be approximately 6,000 years old.

Smith said there is a wide range of people interested in the program.

Brandon Doxtator, the environment and consultation coordinator with the Oneida Nation of the Thames, said it's crucial for Indigenous communities to partake in the archeology process and monitor sites.

"A lot of our traditional territory are located here and these are our ancestors and the artifacts that they used," Doxtator said.

"It's really important that our communities are involved in getting out there to those locations because for a long time, archeological development hasn't acknowledged or respected Indigenous culture and artifacts, and has put it at a lower value than other artifacts in the region, such as European artifacts," he said.

"It's important that our community members review these archeological assessments and hold those proponents to account."

Participants hold up their certificates from the archeological monitoring training held at the Oneida Nation of the Thames community centre on June 2019. (Oneida Nation of the Thames)

Doxtator said the trained individuals who get hired to do the field work will get involved in any archeological assessments on Indigenous sites to review them.

He said they have received requests to assess sites all along the Thames River in May.

The last two training sessions were in partnership with archeologists from the Ontario Archeological Society, prior to that, consultants were brought on to train participants.

The sessions offer one-on-one archeology and are taught the ethics and morals, standards and protocols, learning to do field walks and the four stages of archeology. 

Smith described the work as "tedious" for liaisons as they are expected to go out in the field for digs and do field walks with archaeologists. 

"It's hard labour during the summer months, especially when it's 35 degrees out and they have to start at 7 a.m. just to beat the sun," Smith said.

Monitoring and going out into the field is significant for several reasons, Smith said, but largely due to the community education it serves in teaching and learning more about ancestral and traditional history within the Indigenous population.

"They learn about the community themselves but they also learn about the region they're in and where artifacts came from and how they come to be today."