Anishinaabe students dig into their past

For Anishinaabe students working alongside NCC archaeologists, digging up pieces of ancient tools and pottery at the shoreline of the Ottawa River is as much about connecting with their culture as it is about protecting fragile artifacts.

NCC's annual public excavation returns to riverside trading post

'People would be saying, 'Where's the proof that you were here?' Well, this is it,' said Joshua Odjick, 16. (Elyse Skura/CBC)

For a handful of summer students at the National Capital Commission, Quebec's Archeology Month is more than a neat opportunity to dig for hidden artifacts. 

It's also a way to connect with their own culture and history. 

Each August the NCC invites people from across the region to grab a trowel and help scrape away the clay covering artifacts that were lost for decades, even centuries. 

This year, four Anishinaabe students are working with the NCC's heritage department alongside archeologist Ian Badgley and university students from l'Université du Québec en Outaouais​ and Carleton University.

I felt like I was getting my culture back, my heritage.- Joshua Odjick, student

"I'm finding a bunch of stuff," said 16-year-old Joshua Odjick as he fished an arrowhead out of the pocket of his jeans Wednesday. 

"I felt like I was getting my culture back, my heritage." 

Traditional gathering place

Odjick recently graduated from high school at Kitigan Zibi Kikinamadinan in Maniwaki, Que., and will be going to Heritage College in Gatineau in the fall.

He said this work made him wonder what it would have been like hundreds of years ago, when the area that's now Lac Leamy Park was a gathering place and trading post for Indigenous people.

"I think about what they were doing at the moment, what they were talking about," he said.

"They were pros at this. They'd make [an arrowhead] in 20 minutes, and for me it'd take a couple hours. I'd probably screw up a few times," he said.

Powerful connections

Badgley agreed working with the artifacts can forge a powerful personal connection with the past.

"When we deal with pieces of pottery like this, or anything that's been made by an individual over time, you're actually touching another person, their knowledge," said Badgley.

The free digs are back at Lac Leamy Park Aug. 21 to 26, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. with a break at noon.

Parking is available at 80 boul. Fournier.

Advance registration is recommended, but not required, as are closed-toed shoes, water and bug spray.

The team, including Université du Québec en Outaouais student Emilie Bélanger, has uncovered important Anishnaabe artifacts. (Elyse Skura)

With files from Elyse Skura