Hands in the dirt allows Cree woman to connect with ancestors

Josephine Diamond, 29, found a pipe dating from the 1800s and a passion for archaeology through her work with Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute's archeology team in the James Bay region of Quebec.

Josephine Diamond part of Quebec Cree archeology team

Josephine Diamond, left, and Dario Izaguirre dig this past summer in the Cree community of Wemindji. (Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute)

At first, Josephine Diamond thought she had dug up a stone, but soon realized she'd uncovered a pipe — an old pipe. 

The 29-year old was working with Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute's archeology team in the James Bay community of Wemindji, something she has done every summer in different Cree communities for the last seven years. 

"I thought, 'Finally, I found something,'" said Diamond, her voice filled with excitement.

She believes the pipe dates back to the 1800s.

Diamond has gotten hands-on experience with the team, which she said was "pretty excited" about her discovery.

The piece was found in association with gun-flints, musket balls, trade beads and the remains of two conical dwellings, according to the Aanischaaukamikw archeology team's Facebook page. 

It amazes me.- Josephine Diamond, Aanischaaukamikw archeology team

The dig happened earlier this summer on the site of a proposed road in Wemindji, located some 1,300 kilometres north of Montreal. 

Josephine Diamond found a pipe dating from the 1800s on August 31st near Wemindji. (Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute)

What locals refer to as the Kakabat Road is to be built on the Kakabat family trapline and would give access to a building materials site of sand, gravel and rocks. 

The archeological dig began in 2018 and continued this past summer. Four mitchuaps (dwellings) were unearthed in 2018, and another five this past summer, according to Dario Izaguirre, an archeologist with Aanischaaukamikw. 

He says each shelter was likely home to between 16 and 18 people and dates from the end of the 1800s to the beginning of the 1900s. 

Izaguirre says the pipe Diamond dug up is an interesting artifact, as are the many others the team has unearthed over the past two summers. He says the findings paint an interesting picture of how Cree people lived in the past.

"It is most important to see how the [Cree] people occupied the territory," he said.

Diamond agrees. Having a glimpse of where her ancestors lived and gathered so long ago is something she loves about the work.

She has so far worked on excavation sites in the communities of Waskaganish, Oujé-Bougoumou and Wemindji.

"I like it when I find artifacts and when I see the area of where [my] people lived," said Diamond. "It amazes me." 

Josephine Diamond, bottom row far left, has been digging for artifacts with the Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute's archeology team since 2012. (Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute)

The artifacts found in Wemindji are to be cleaned over the winter. Then they will be catalogued and displayed for the community.

The Aanischaaukamikw archeology team, including Diamond, is currently digging in Oujé-Bougoumou.

With files from Susan Bell