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Working Together

Archaeology, Education, and the Secwepemc

George P. Nicholas


When I completed my PhD at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, I had the usual expectations of obtaining a faculty position at a prestigious university. A year later, following a move to British Columbia, I was indeed teaching archaeology and anthropology in a university program, but one located on an Indian reserve. I have not once regretted this change of venue for it has led to my ongoing involvement with aboriginal peoples from across North America. Worldwide, the relationship between archaeology and indigenous peoples is now undergoing substantial change, and we are reaching the point where it may not be possible, nor desirable, to do archaeology without their involvement and collaboration. I thus feel privileged to be where I am and doing what I'm doing with the Secwepemc and other native peoples in such interesting times.

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Secwepemc and Secwepemc Archaeology

The Secwepemc, or more commonly the Shuswap, are an Interior Salish people of south-central British Columbia. Their territory centers on the Fraser River and the North and South Thompson Rivers. Of the 17 bands that comprise the Secwepemc, the largest in population and land base is the Kamloops Band whose reserve is located adjacent to the city of Kamloops. The Kamloops Reserve has been a center for Secwepemc affairs for thousands of years and today includes both the Kamloops Figure 1 Indian Band and Shuswap Nation Tribal Council offices, and other agencies and programs. This reserve was also the location of a residential school in which traditional cultural and language was replaced with a Catholic/European Canadian equivalent.

In 1989 a collaborative educational program was initiated between the Secwepemc Cultural Education Society and Simon Fraser University [SCES/SFU] to establish a native-administered, native-run, postsecondary educational institute on the Kamloops Indian Reserve. The program would enhance the quality of life of native people; preserve, protect, interpret, and promote their history, language, and culture; and provide research and developmental opportunities to enable native people to control their own affairs and destiny.

Currently, the program offers a bachelor of general studies and bachelor of arts degrees, with majors and/or minors in anthropology, sociology, archaeology, First Nations studies, and linguistics, among other subjects, and several certificate programs. Over 100 lower- and upper-level university courses are offered each year, as well as several graduate courses. The program continues to expand and now has over 250 registered students. In 1993 the program was awarded the Canadian Association of University Continuing Education's Award for Excellence.

Virtually from the start, archaeology has been an important component of the SCES/SFU program. Degree-related options include both a major and a minor in archaeology, and a joint anthropology/archaeology major. Fifteen archaeology courses are currently offered, most on a regular basis, ranging from introductory courses on method and theory, to regional overviews, to such advanced courses as lithic technology, prehistoric human ecology, and archaeological theory. In addition, we try to customize standard courses or develop news ones pertinent to our students and the larger native community, as the following examples illustrate:

ARCH 386-Archaeological Resource Management introduces students to an in-depth and globally oriented examination of the problems of, and solutions to, the management of archaeological and cultural resources. Case studies on the management of archaeological resources in Africa, for example, or on such culturally sensitive issues as reburial and repatriation in Australia, can provide new ways of solving problems in North America. Guest speakers have included Chief Manny Jules (Kamloops Indian Band) and Brian Apland (B.C. Provincial Archaeologist).

ARCH 334-Archaeology for Educators is oriented to students who have a strong interest in archaeology, but plan to pursue a career as teachers at all grade levels. This course allows them an opportunity to integrate archaeology into their teaching: the earlier the values of the past are passed on to children, the greater their appreciation of archaeology will become. Such a course thus represents a type of cultural resource management that will prove very effective in the long run, providing it can be offered widely and regularly.

In 1994 we hosted the 4th B.C. Archaeology Forum where over 120 archaeologists, academics, and provincial and First Nations representatives gathered to discuss current events and issues affecting archaeology in the province. Since 1994 we have also administered the Alvin Jules Scholarship for First Nations Students, which is funded by contributions from consulting archaeologists throughout the province.

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SCES/SFU Archaeology Field School

In addition to course work, additional training in archaeology is available through our archaeology field school, now entering its seventh consecutive year. The field school has focused on site survey, testing, and evaluationskills clearly important to First Nations as they become increasingly involved in resource management. Much of our fieldwork has been directed to three important areas of research that complement and extend previous archaeological research in the region:

Our field studies have also been integrated into a three-year interdisciplinary study funded by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council project on Traditional and Prehistoric Secwepemc Plant Use and Ecology. The project investigators, Nancy Turner, Marianne Ignace, Harriet Kuhnlein, Chief Ron Ignace, and myself, are examining:

Along with its research orientation, the SCES/SFU Archaeology Field School has also been involved with cultural heritage projects on behalf of the Secwepemc people. For example, we are working with the Kamloops Band to mitigate the impact of a large housing development and golf course on and around a location where we had previously conducted extensive field studies. We have also conducted work on behalf of the Secwepemc Cultural Education Society and the Secwepemc Museum. These projects allow us to help the Secwepemc people balance current land use plans with heritage preservation, as well as to introduce our students to the very real demands of mitigative archaeology and to the rewards and frustrations that are part of cultural resource management.

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Archaeological Problems and Prospects

The SCES/SFU Program and others like it have accomplished a great deal in terms of meeting the educational needs of First Nations. For our part, we are confident that our graduates, whether they go on to careers as farmers, educators, or band council members, carry with them knowledge that will someday be used as tools by their home communities and nations. This is especially so for those in the archaeology program, many of whom have gone on to full- or part-time employment with various aboriginal organizations, provincial agencies, and consulting archaeology companies. SCES/SFU alumni are also pursuing graduate studies in archaeology and anthropology.

Naturally, there are growing pains . Some relate to cultural differences that we, as educators, need to be sensitive to. Certain problems stem from the fact that First Nations peoples historically have been educationally disadvantaged, a problem only seriously addressed in recent years. Despite the apparent degree of acculturation in many native communities, there remain some important cultural distinctions. For example, native students may miss classes not only when there is a death in their immediate (or more distant) family, but also when a relative is ill and needs their care, or when they need to spend time with the family of a recently deceased relative. The death of a community elder means that many students will be absent. Cultural differences also arise in the field; during the 1991 field school, several students would not touch any bone they found during site survey, even if it was obviously animal, although they would bring it to my attention.

It is important to expose archaeology students to many different value systems. To this end, in both 1993 and 1995, the SCES/SFU field school was run as a joint venture with the University College of the Cariboo and college anthropologist Catherine Carlson. This cooperative approach was designed both to allow aboriginal and non-aboriginal students to work together and to rotate them through two very different projects. Carlson has been investigating the contact-period native settlement associated with one of the first Hudson Bay trading posts in the area to explore native accommodation or resistance to European Canadian influences, while my work has focused on past human ecosystems, as outlined above. Two teams were formed to work on these projects, each containing students from both institutions; halfway through the field season, the students changed sites.

In terms of some of the larger issues relating to archaeology here, we would like to see an integrated approach to cultural heritage develop between SCES/SFU, the Kamloops Band, the Secwepemc Museum, and the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council. Many of the components are in place, and these organizations interact a good deal, but we still lack a formal structure to pull everything together in a ongoing, consistent manner. There are still too many gaps for sites to fall into, as illustrated in 1994 when a newly discovered site on the Kamloops Indian Reserve was threatened and later destroyed by road-widening work. To address these and other issues relating to heritage preservation, the Kamloops Band, working with several archaeologists, has recently developed a comprehensive archaeological resource policy.

In many places, the success of archaeology projects and cultural resource management strategies may be adversely influenced by band politics. This has not proved a noticeable problem on the Kamloops Indian Reserve. While there is naturally some dissension over certain issues within the community, our archaeology program continues to receive strong support from the Band Council and the Secwepemc people. However, there will always be those who remain wary of archaeologists, and unconvinced of their contributions. Some native interest groups are also openly opposed to any archaeology perceived to threaten their interests.

The importance of involving First Nations people in archaeology is derived from their different perspectives of the past and the role that archaeology can have illuminating that past. We encourage students in the SCES/SFU Program to think about issues and look forward to their innovative responses to this challenge. Non-native archaeologists must also learn to look at the past in different ways as well. Continuing a tradition begun by Eldon Yellowhorn, my teaching assistant in 1992, each year we now leave a tobacco offering before backfilling a site. Although my worldview is different from the Secwepemc's, the offering is given as an expression of respect for these people, both past and present, and of a continuing commitment to their heritage.

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Training Native Archaeologists

Today, cooperative ventures, earning trust, advocacy, and the presentation of the past have become as much a part of archaeology as are locating sites and measuring artifacts. Archaeologists, for their part, need to recognize that they are dealing with members of a different culture and be flexible accordingly. How we discuss the peopling of the New World with native students is one area requiring a balance between scientific evidence and beliefs of an in situ creation.

Issues relating to the discovery of human remains and reburial and the preservation of sacred sites will always be sensitive ones. But even here there is much potential for innovative approaches. For example, native students with training in archaeology and physical anthropology, and experience in different value systems, would serve an important role as cultural brokers between archaeologists and native communities to resolve problems relating to human remains and sacred sites.

As aboriginal archaeologists increase in number, they will confront a variety of moral and spiritual issues relating to animal and human bone and to spiritual or secret-sacred sites, especially within the context of archaeological heritage management, and will have to make decisions on their own or in consultation with elders and community members. In this context, non-aboriginal archaeologists may be able to offer little advice, since they may not be sensitive to, or knowledgeable about, belief systems and perceptions of the landscape different from their own. With the SCES/SFU program, we encourage our students to think about and discuss how they would approach such problems as these.


The collaboration between Simon Fraser University and the Secwepemc Cultural Education Society has made it possible to offer a university-based archaeology program directly to aboriginal people in a setting they are comfortable with. This has not only made such educational programs available to interested students, but has increased awareness in archaeology within the aboriginal community. And, on a personal note, it has enriched my life immeasurably.

Worldwide, indigenous peoples view archaeology with both apprehension and promise. Our task as archaeologists is to make what we do more accessible and understandable and to promote our field's various applications. Archaeology, after all, has a vital role is such areas as: nation (rebuilding); pursuing land claims; identifying and preserving heritage sites of local significance; verifying oral traditions; writing one's own history; and offering employment opportunities.

We must keep in mind, however, that it is not simply enough to teach indigenous peoples to do our version of archaeology. We need to recognize that cultural diversity does not apply only to lifeways and languages. There are other stories to hear about the past, told in voices that we may be unfamiliar with, largely because these people have not spoken before. There are other ways of knowing the past, other ways of interpreting the archaeological record, that we may be very uncomfortable with because they stem from different cultural traditions. The archaeologies that will emerge as indigenous people become archaeologists themselves will undoubtedly have a positive effect on the discipline. And these potentially different views of the past represent another type of cultural diversityone that we, as anthropologists, have much to learn from.

George P. Nicholas is lecturer and archaeology program director of the Secwepemc Cultural Education Society/Simon Fraser University Program in Kamloops, British Columbia. He can be contacted at SCES/SFU, 345 Yellowhead Highway, Kamloops, BC V2H 1H1 or by email Portions of this paper are extracted from "Education and Empowerment: Archaeology with, for, and by the Shuswap Nation, British Columbia," in At a Crossroads: Archaeology and First Peoples in Canada, edited by G. P. Nicholas and T. D. Andrews. Archaeology Press, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC., in press.

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