We’re standing in a circle on an expansive seaside in entrance of an historic rock-walled fish-trap — one in every of many archaeological websites on the small island of Xwe’etay (Lasqueti) within the Salish Sea between Vancouver Island and the British Columbian mainland.
We’re joined by about 80 island locals who clambered over slippery rocks to listen to concerning the archaeological heritage of the island and to satisfy members of the Tla’amin Nation, who’ve historic ancestral pursuits on Xwe’etay.
That is the primary time any of the islanders have met their northern Coast Salish neighbours and the primary time these Tla’amin neighborhood members have visited these ancestral lands.
Collectively we sound out the ancestral title of the island: “wha-et-tai”— the northern Coast Salish time period for yew tree. It doesn’t matter that the majority of us stated it flawed. What issues is the saying of it — and in doing so, acknowledging one other folks’s historical past and place on the island.
This one collective gesture illustrates the facility of community-engaged archaeology to construct bridges, contribute to scientific understanding and advance the method of reconciliation.
Our work on the Xwe’etay/Lasqueti Archaeology Mission, also called XLAP, is based on the idea that archaeology could be a highly effective catalyst for cross-community conversations about deep Indigenous connections to their lands and seas. These connections embrace the much less seen teachings which form the cultural practices that commemorate these connections.
Archaeology on Xwe’etay
Many archaeologists perceive that working towards archaeology comes with a duty to descendant communities whose historical past, cultural id and well being are embedded within the archaeological document. This recognition typically arises from Indigenous Individuals’s need to take cost of managing the stewardship of their conventional territories. It has motivated many archaeologists to create significant partnerships with Indigenous communities.
Far much less frequent, nevertheless, is for archaeologists to deeply interact with settler communities whose previous is probably not mirrored within the archaeological document. These communities, nonetheless, really feel both a connection to the land, maintain personal property rights related to websites or really feel linked to the archaeological document in scientific or private methods.
Trendy Lasqueti Island is a microcosm of the Indigenous heritage discovered elsewhere in British Columbia and past. Indigenous historical past is obvious in a wealthy and diversified archaeological document. During the last eight or extra a long time, this document has slowly and repeatedly been eroded by small-scale growth. On the identical time, the settler island neighborhood of Lasqueti has developed their very own connections to the land on which they reside, and the neighborhood of which they’re a component.
No Indigenous descendants of the land have lived on the island for 2 centuries due to a myriad of intentional colonial impacts. At this time, no less than 13 Northern Coast Salish, Coast Salish and Kwakwakaʼwakw nations declare various pursuits within the island’s land and sea.
Eroding Canadian myths
There are no less than two ways in which the XLAP staff engages actively with the huge potential of archaeology to deliver communities collectively. First are the various ongoing discussions with island landowners and different residents about Indigenous heritage. These discussions contain sharing details about our archaeological findings and speaking concerning the moral and authorized tasks of landowners relating to archaeological websites on their property.
Second, our island-wide exploration of archaeological heritage has offered probabilities for the island’s present inhabitants and the undertaking’s Indigenous companions to get their arms soiled screening and excavating. Touching the previous on this manner is a strong manner for folks to see the land in another way and to rethink their duty in the direction of it.
By means of our engaged archaeological work, we’re slowly eroding the Canadian delusion that has facilitated the destruction of Indigenous heritage and different intentional insurance policies of cultural genocide. As one settler resident of the island stated:
“…sifting via the layers of time and lives. What a gap of my eyes to the extent of Native settlement on Lasqueti — and the entire coast. I might virtually hear the clatter of the Victorian-patterned curtains on my eyes fall away to study that the ‘middens,’ which the colonial narrative has thought to be the garbage heaps, are literally rigorously constructed home flooring of fantastic drainage supplies. There goes one other delusion of the wild B.C. coast.”
Myths reminiscent of these have served to defend settlers from the truth that Indigenous connection to the land goes again a whole lot of generations, rooted in flood and creation tales. Thus far, our oldest radiocarbon dated archaeological web site on Xwe’etay is 3,800 years outdated.
Bringing communities collectively
Group-engaged archaeology affords a visceral jolt to the method of reconciliation. You’ll be able to’t unsee a panorama with terraced slopes that have been formed over generations by Indigenous settlements and on which right now’s settlers have constructed their houses. You’ll be able to’t unsee the fish traps and clam gardens that replicate the in depth engineering and administration of the intertidal zone. And you’ll’t unsee the archaeological websites lining the shoreline which might be composed of layers of shells and proof of previous lives lived.
Accepting these truths about Indigenous connections to the land gives a basis to start therapeutic previous wrongs and for creating bridges. As stated by Kim Recalma-Clutesi, whose brother, Mark Recalma, is the hereditary chief of the Pentlatch (Qualicum) Nation territory that features Xwe’etay:
“You realize, we’ve been combating for a very long time. And we’ve been advocates for a very long time…. It’s time for us to listen to your sort phrases and your gestures. To listen to it and embrace it. Nevertheless it’s additionally time so that you can put the guilt down. As a result of they’re each debilitating…. And our path ahead is working collectively. We don’t provide you with permission to [feel guilt]. We provide you with permission to maneuver ahead and do extra of what you’ve accomplished.”
Mission advisor and archaeologist Christine Roberts from Wei Wai Kum Nation provides, “I believe it is a actually distinctive state of affairs you guys have right here and I believe it’s actually cool as a result of the entire archaeology that you simply’re discovering provides to the story — which turns into your story.”
Now we have witnessed the social transformations which might be led to via folks’s curiosity and curiosity concerning the previous. The archaeology of Xwe’etay is in depth and noteworthy. Recording and recognizing it as we’re doing in XLAP gives an opportunity to honor the deep Indigenous historical past it represents.
For Indigenous communities, community-engaged archaeology facilitates connecting with their ancestral practices and locations. For settlers, it may be a option to think about the range and richness of previous lives within the locations that they now name residence.
Recognizing the richness of that historical past can evoke quite a lot of feelings. These embrace worry for some, but additionally humility and awe, in addition to a deepening of their very own connections to these locations. It’s via many small conversations and mutual respect for previous and current inhabitants of those lands that reconciliation might start.