Students with Alberta Culture and Tourism’s First Nations Archaeological Field Skills Training Program hit the ground running in September, putting their new skills to the test at Fish Creek Provincial Park.
With the Parks Division of Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development currently planning flood remediation work within the Hull’s Wood Day Use Area, staff with the ministry’s Archaeological Survey identified the need for a Historic Resource Impact Assessment .
“We are doing the assessment for three primary purposes,” said Darryl Bereziuk, Director of Alberta Culture and Tourism’s Archaeological Survey. “The assessment will update the status of previously recorded archaeological sites within those areas where remediation work is being considered. It also provides an opportunity to find any other archaeological sites in the project area that were not previously recorded. Assessing the nature and extent of these sites will provide the information needed to help Parks staff in setting the parameters for remediation work in the Hull’s Wood Day Use Area.”
Working alongside archaeologists and elders from the First Nations community, students representing the Kainai, Piikani and Tsuu T’ina First Nations helped to identify sites and assess areas hit hard by the 2013 spring flooding. Students examined newly exposed cutbanks and conducted shovel tests, excavating flood exposed sites and sifting through mounds of soil, to uncover bone, stone chips or fire-broken rock – evidence of ancient human activity along Fish Creek.
(Nathan Meguinis sifts through the contents of test hole part of the field work conducted by students at Fish Creek Park in Calgary)
“This is the stuff that you get into archaeology for,” Darryl said. “It can be tedious work at times, but once you come upon that first artifact or that first stone feature from what might be anything from an ancient campfire or tipi ring– you’re hooked.”
Alison Provost of the Piikani Nation, one of the students taking part in the field skills program, agrees.
“When I first started this program, one of my instructors said after this course, a hike will never be the same again. He was so right.”
“My attraction with the First Nations archaeological field skills training started unknowingly with the location of my previous jobs all within the traditional Blackfoot Territory like Waterton and Banff,” Alison said. “My casual walks and hikes were a learning experience and opportunity to connect to the land. Little did I know that I would have the opportunity to be a part of such an integral component in preserving our history and culture.”
(Blair First Rider of Alberta Culture and Tourism looks for evidence of early human activity in areas revealed by the 2013 flooding at Calgary’s Fish Creek Park)
“The field skills program has broadened, increased and improved my own pathway of discovery and preservation of Native historical sites, also combining the fields of Indigenous Archaeology will create awareness to the membership and the public. I want to pursue the traditional knowledge and learn the significance and broaden my own understanding of the archaeological aspect. Knowing the traditional background will help identifying historical sites.”
The blending of traditional knowledge with the use of current technology also proved to be a rewarding experience for young archaeologists in training. During the classroom component of the program, staff from Lifeways of Canada, a cultural resources consulting firm working on the project, walked students through the mapping process.
“Lifeways instruction of map reading and stratigraphy provided me the tools to accurately operate GPS receivers that saved the location of major sites we visited, also the importance of how to calculate the Number of Identified Specimens and Minimum Number of Individuals to identify specimens in an assemblage. The project archaeologists instructed the art of making stone tools which requires a lot of patience and steady hand to manipulate the indirect percussion of the stone to pressure flaking to shape into an arrow head.”
Taking part in the Historic Resource Impact Assessment project and visiting some of the province’s most valuable archaeological sites made a strong impression on Alison and her fellow students.
“With the flood being so extreme it uncovered numerous new sites and the immediate need for these sites to be protected and preserved. Sites along the Bow River are being reported more as the flood damage is examined more. We had the opportunity to view sites in and around the Calgary region to see pictographs, including the Big Rock in Okotoks and the Women’s Buffalo Jump archaeological site located on the south bank of Squaw Coulee. The site has sandstone cliffs that contain a drawing of the ‘Morning Star’. Being First Nations of Blackfoot origin from the Piikani Nation these sites play a significant role in our history and underscore the importance of utilizing these skills to preserve our culture and traditions.”
“The relationship between Alberta Culture and Tourism, Environment and Sustainable Resource Development and Aboriginal Relations is what attracted me to taking First Nations Archaeological Field Skills Training Program. These skills open up doors for archaeological excavations digs in the future and having lived in Waterton and Banff gives me an extra drive to explore and find lost Native American artifacts.”
Along with opening doors to new career opportunities, Alison said the program has fired an even stronger appreciation for her own First Nation heritage.
“Now I have the insight for looking for archaeological sites. Learning that Waterton National Park has as many sites and discoveries as those in Banff, I definitely want to pursue archaeology and share my experience and knowledge with others. This will give insight to First Nations communities. Aboriginal communities across Canada have been recording and mapping historical sites also interviewing elders. It’s our generation’s responsibility to collect and gather our traditional ways and to continue our native way. Archaeology is the study of the human past.”
“To know where you’re going, you need to know where you came from.”