Aboriginal Peoples, Archaeology and Parks Canada

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Parks Canada archaeology and historical archaeology have been synonymous for over a quarter of a century. The vast majority of research, both terrestrial and marine, has focused on Euro-Canadian National Historic Sites dating primarily from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. Research directed toward Aboriginal history has been limited, even on fur trade sites where Aboriginal peoples played a major role. Over the last five years, the emphasis has begun to shift through a variety of initiatives related to historic site and new park establishment planning, northern Aboriginal comprehensive claims settlement, and an enhanced commitment to cultural resource management involving Aboriginal communities. This transition is described using examples from the Prairie and Northern Region of Parks Canada.

Keywords: Parks Canada; cultural resource management; Aboriginal peoples; oral history

Parks Canada, Prairie and Northern Region, is a large and complex organization employing over 1000 people. It is responsible for managing 11 national parks and 20 national historic sites scattered across approximately one half of Canada, from Ellesmere Island in the north to the Montana border in the south and from Baffin Island in the east to the Alaska border in the west (Figure 1). While archaeology is part of the National Historic Sites Branch from a Headquarters perspective, the Prairie and Northern Region has long considered cultural resource management (CRM) an integral part of the national park mandate. This has perhaps been due to the visibility and abundance of archaeological remains in arctic parks, but perhaps is also a function of continued traditional Aboriginal lifeways "on the land" which so obviously express the linkages between natural and cultural heritage.

A great deal of archaeology has been accomplished on national historic sites across the region; however, very few of these sites have been established to commemorate Aboriginal history themes or events. Euro-Canadian achievements have been the focus, and Aboriginal activities have played an ancillary role. Thus, incidental Aboriginal archaeological remains of local or territorial significance have not always been accorded the same consideration by national historic site managers.

Several years ago, a full review of the 1989 National Historic Sites Systems plan was initiated involving client and partner consultations across Canada. Subsequently, national workshops were convened to begin the process of enhancing national recognition of women's history and the history of Aboriginal peoples (Environment Canada Parks Service 1994). The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada proposes to use the revised plan to assist in the identification, selection and establishment of new national historic sites. This will result in a more thematically-balanced system of sites.

At the National Workshop on the History of Aboriginal Peoples held in January 1993, First Nations representatives raised four major issues. The first concerned documentation of traditional knowledge and oral history. This is currently a priority issue among virtually all Aboriginal communities. The second involved the need for an inventory of nationally significant sites relating to Aboriginal history, including enhanced site management in government partnership with local Aboriginal communities. The third issue revolved around the consultation process for the establishment of national historic sites and the need for full Aboriginal participation from the beginning of the new site establishment process. Finally, First Nations representatives articulated the need for training and having Aboriginal peoples involved not just in the collection and preservation of knowledge, but on its presentation to the public. A commitment was made to the training of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal staff for National Historic Sites representing Aboriginal history. Such sites would incorporate programming containing a balance of Aboriginal traditional knowledge and "Euro-Canadian" technical-scientific knowledge and be developed in partnership with elders of local Aboriginal groups. …