The Forest and Prairie regional working committee encompassed the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and northwestern Ontario. This region contains the largest population of Aboriginal people in Canada.


The committee consisted of 12 people, five of whom are Aboriginal, thus maintaining a balance of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Regional committee meetings were held to discuss strategies and devise a plan that would best address the AHC mandate. It was decided to apply an approach in accordance with First Nations practice and have Elders review the draft guidelines for their comments and recommendations.

As a practical initiative, it was decided that a display of artifacts, specific to the various regions represented, together with an outline of the goals and methods of archaeology, be constructed and taken on tour to each sub-region or province. The involvement of Aboriginal people in particular would be emphasized as a prominent part of the display, and it would be accompanied by Aboriginal interpreters who had some experience in archaeology, as well as a first hand knowledge of the regions where the display was to tour. The display and interpretive team were to visit various First Nation and Metis gatherings and events. The process would thus provide an ideal opportunity to discuss issues relating to archaeology and Aboriginal heritage with Elders and the grassroots.

Due to the vastness of the region, however, and because funding would have to be obtained from separate provincial agencies, it was decided that the project be compartmentalized into independent segments available for set-up wherever First Nation groups were interested. As the overall regional approach was not practical, the members in the respective provincial jurisdictions assumed responsiblity for targeting local groups to gain responses on the AHC's draft guidelines.

In northwestern Ontario, there was a misunderstanding between committee members and the sponsoring umbrella organization regarding the timing of the proposed tour and the funding was unfortunately lost. Despite this dilemma, a committee member proposed to continue the process of informing the Aboriginal community through a series of articles that will be submitted to First Nation newspapers that service this region.

In Manitoba, two students were hired in 1994 to tour a number of southwestern reserves associated with the Dakota Ojibway Tribal Council. This included visits to local Friendship Centres. The following summer, the Manitoba tour resumed, reaching more of the northern Aboriginal communities.

The Saskatchewan heritage promotion and education program began in mid-summer of 1994 with a field trip to a number of northern communities. Visits also included several reserves in the south. Two Elders Conferences were also attended: one sponsored by the Saskatchewan Indian Cultural College in Saskatoon, and one sponsored by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) in the Battlefords. Along with displays, presentations were made on issues pertaining to heritage, archaeology and the AHC Draft Guidelines.

The Draft Guidelines were circulated to candidates and to the leadership at the 1994 Assembly of First Nations elections held in Saskatoon. Given other pressures imposed on First Nation governments, however, it can be understood that the document was not a priority. In addition, the 1995 elections of the FSIN were also attended and the AHC document circulated with the hope that archaeological issues would be addressed. Positive and informative discussions resulted with a number of Chiefs and Band Councillors.

In Alberta, a number of northern communities were visited and interviews were conducted with a number of Elders and other community leaders. A response to the Draft Guidelines was also sought from the Chief, Council and Elders of the Peigan reserve in the south. Eldon Yellowhorn, Co-Chair of the AHC, describes his work in Alberta in a separate report.

Evaluation of Process

It was found that many who came to view the displays on tour in parts of the region were not prepared to fill out the accompanying survey forms, however, copies of the Draft Guidelines were handed out with return addresses in order that people could comment in writing. The document was well received and archaeology was perceived as finally progressing in a positive direction and that a very important step was being taken by the CAA/AAC. Many agreed to the concept of cooperation and increased communication as outlined in the document; it was long overdue.

In Saskatchewan, the opinion was expressed that more displays depicting Aboriginal culture and history were needed at northern schools. It was felt that teaching children about archaeology and the past was very important. These communities do not have the opportunity to view artifacts other than in a museum in the south and having a display visit their community was a very good idea. An Elder out of curiosity asked about the number of Aboriginal students involved in archaeology and was surprised that all could be counted on both hands if not one. He concluded that more Aboriginal students must be made aware of a possible career in archaeology. Most communities visited in the south expressed enthusiasm in the development of the draft guidelines and were willing to implement them providing they were consulted in all phases of archaeological research. Only one group felt that Aboriginal people should not be involved in archaeology because of the sacredness of Mother Earth.

Some comments and concerns went beyond issues pertaining to archaeology. At the Battleford Conference, Elders focused on issues relating to forestry, mining and the damming and flooding of river systems. Those affected by such activities still maintain traditional land use practices and comments reflected their feelings toward this process. For example, one Elder stated, "The white man will never listen to us, all they care about is money, they have no respect for us or the land." What must be understood is that all outsiders (non-Aboriginal people) are often perceived as one in the same, and this includes archaeologists. In reality, many Elders feel victimised and exploited by the "White Man's" world and therefore find it very difficult to share whatever remains of their culture, tradition, oral history and spiritual knowledge. As well, others are not pleased with the actions of the younger acculturated generation and believe they too are losing respect in the eyes of the Creator.

All across the region, Elders expressed the need for co-operative efforts between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, not only with regards to archaeology, but with everything. One Elder commented that we are now in a new era in which Aboriginal people and archaeologists must start learning to work together hand in hand and in mutual respect. Other concerns included the significant role of oral history in understanding the material culture obtained through archaeological research. It was stated that Aboriginal people's views and interpretations need to be incorporated more often into archaeological research. An important point made was that cross-cultural awareness workshops, not only between First Nations and Euro-Canadians, but among the different First Nations themselves, was needed. This issue specifically entailed the practices and appropriate procedures used in the handling of specific artifacts. It must be understood that various First Nations have differing views regarding cultural material.

Discussions with some FSIN leaders focused on consultation in areas related to sacred sites and burial sites and the communication and interpretation of Aboriginal culture and heritage. It was felt that the principals of informed consent and Aboriginal involvement were important, but that the process should be made on a collective basis and not left to the discretion of individual First Nations. Consultation was seen as essential and very important in furthering positive relationships between First Nations and archaeologists.

Many Elders and grassroots people still maintain traditional practices of respect for Mother Earth and have offered suggestions as to how archaeologists may apply this value system to the discipline. In a report about the Manitoba tour, Todd Paquin stated that many people discussed the significance of the tobacco offering tradition and how it may be applied to dealing with archaeological sites. He was told that whenever something is taken from Mother Earth, an offering must be made to give something back in order to maintain a balance in the natural order of creation.

The offering of tobacco is portrayed as an act of good faith by many traditional practitioners. The importance of making such a gesture may result in new relationships and a greater co-operation and acceptance of what archaeologists are doing. This process also relates to the idea that when artifacts are removed from the ground, an offering should be made to the Great Spirit (Creator/God) in prayer with the intent that the artifacts will be well cared for. This also includes the respect for the person in the past who manufactured and owned the artifact. It would be very disrespectful to treat the artifacts with carelessness.

Conclusions and Recommendations

In conclusion, more ground work needs to be done in the promotion of archaeology and heritage. The CAA/AAC initiative has created lines of communication into the Aboriginal community. Elders, grassroots people and political leaders have been made aware and informed of the issues pertaining to archaeology. It is unfortunate that not all Aboriginal communities were reached. We hope that the contacts in the various communities were with key people that would become instrumental in bridging the gaps. It was difficult to find Aboriginal students willing to tour with the display or go on field trips. The qualified students had their own priorities relating to their studies and found it difficult to make commitments to the project.

Both archaeologists and First Nations people have to begin the process of educating each other in order to establish a positive working relationship. Cross-cultural awareness is a key in the process of educating each other. The dissemination of information and education on archaeological issues to the Aboriginal public and educating professional archaeologists on Aboriginal culture and spiritual values has only began.


The author would like to acknowledge the contributions of committee members Bev Nicholson, Chuck Ramsey, Joe White Bear, Lois Edge, Scott Hamilton, David Meyer, Leigh Syms, Margaret Hanna, Terry Gibson, Jack Ives, Marty Magne and Eldon Yellowhorn. Special thanks to Todd Paquin, Leah Dorion, Patrick Young and Jill Musser from the University of Saskatchewan for their involvement on the road tours in Manitoba and in Saskatchewan. The Saskatchewan Archaeological Society must also be thanked for the use of display materials. Special thanks to the Saskatchewan Heritage Branch and to the Access to Archaeology program for funding the tours to Aboriginal communities.