U of S archeology grad thinks more Indigenous people in the field can help ease tensions

Lillanohna Naytowhowcon is one of the only Indigenous grads this year from the University of Saskatchewan’s archeology program. She says more Indigenous-specific education is needed to build trust between Indigenous people and the field.

Considering protocol, tradition can improve relationship between Indigenous people, archeologists: grad

'We need more Indigenous people in places of power. We need more indigenous teachers at universities because just you being there can make an effect on the people around you because you can take a look at something from a new perspective,' says Lillanohna Naytowhowcon, who is a Nehiyaw archeology degree graduate from the University of Saskatchewan. She is pictured here at an excavation site at the shíshálh Nation in B.C. (Lily Naytowhowcon/Facebook )

When Lillanohna Naytowhowcon graduated from the University of Saskatchewan's archeology program this month, she was one of only a handful of Indigenous students. Now, she's encouraging more Indigenous people to enter the field.

A big part of the reason why she sees that as important is to pass down Indigenous protocol when it comes to research methods.

"It's my understanding that if you found maybe a piece of regalia, that you shouldn't even touch it with your bare hands, that one of the things that you have to do is actually take a cloth and put it over the material thing before you actually remove it or put it somewhere else."

That particular teaching may vary territory to territory, she said, so it is important for professors at universities to be sensitive to that before asking students to speak on behalf of all Indigenous people.

Naytowhowcon found she was singled out in classes whenever Indigenous topics came up. She said this was especially hard when Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley was on trial for the death of Colten Boushie, an Indigenous man.

I really do believe that Indigenous people, we all know deep down that taking care of the land is apriority.- Lillanohna Naytowhowcon

"Sometimes you get afraid of speaking because you feel like your opinion is so much different than everyone else's," she said.

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"You're kind of a minority when it comes to your opinion on things because not everybody gets to experience going to the reserves and seeing the after effects of colonialism."

'You're really being accepted when you're going down these hallways in your grad outfit and you can hear power music coming from the other room or you hear a drum group going and people can actually express themselves the way that they want to in a grad ceremony,' says Lillanohna Naytowhowcon, who wore some of her regalia and beaded jewelry created by her family and friends. (Lily Naytowhowcon/Facebook)

Naytowhowcon wanted to be an archeologist from the time she was seven years old.

As a university student, her dream was realized when she was able to work on an archeological research project on the shíshálh Nation in British Columbia.

"They actually found 4,000-year-old remains of their ancestors through archeology and they were able to do an excavation and claim that land," Naytowhowcon said.

"It's kind of like saying, 'This is our land and our heritage, so don't over develop and don't over-use,' which is something I care a lot about. I care a lot about the environment and I really do believe that Indigenous people, we all know deep down that taking care of the land is a priority."

A tense relationship

Naytowhowcon recognizes the "bad rap" archeologists get from the Indigenous community even to this day. Recently, a Saskatchewan First Nation fought to stop a roadway project that could destroy Indigenous artifacts.

She thinks having more Indigenous archaeologists out in the field can help assist with concerns like the ones in Saskatchewan. 

"There are some outdated laws and policies that kind of affect our ability to manage our own artifacts, and I do believe that Indigenous artifacts do have the right to be with (those) people and that they should be able to manage with them in a way that's respectful and that follows protocol," she said.

"I've been raised in a traditional family so that's always been something really important, to talk to people about respect and following tradition."

'A lot of the things that are used in ceremony are not necessarily supposed to be viewed in the public and some things are considered to have a spirit of their own or they may be protected in some way. That's why some of the things that they find shouldn't necessarily be tampered with or shouldn't even be held,' says Lillanohna Naytowhowcon, who stands next to her mother, her partner, sister, nieces and nephews at her graduation. (Lily Naytowhowcon/Facebook)

Walking across the convocation stage recently, wearing a ribbon dress, made all the learning curves worth it for Naytowhowcon.

She said last week was one of the happiest moments she has had in her life.

She wore traditional regalia made by her sister, who was at her graduation ceremony alongside other relatives and her partner.

"You know they all 'lele-ed' (cheered celebratedly) when I went up to the (podium), grabbing my diploma, so it was a really powerful to have them all behind me there."


Ntawnis Piapot is Nehiyaw Iskwew from Piapot Cree Nation. She has a journalism degree from the University of Regina, and is a graduate from the INCA Media and Intercultural Leadership Program from the First Nations University. Ntawnis has been a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan, APTN National News, CTV Regina, VICE News, J-Source and Eagle Feather News. Email: