In 1991, as a direct result of the reaction by Aboriginal groups to the proposed federal archaeological heritage legislation, the Association des archéologues du Québec (AAQ) began discussions on archaeology and Aboriginal peoples. A decision was made to set up a committee to examine and to make recommendations on improving relations between archaeologists and Aboriginal people. Although this committee was not formally constituted, a workshop involving archaeologists and Aboriginal peoples was held in April 1992 as part of the annual AAQ colloquium. When the AHC was established in November 1992, the strategy adopted in Québec was to build on the initiative of the AAQ workshop and to work in close collaboration with the AAQ.


Initially, there were two representatives from Québec on the AHC, the author and Tommy Weetaluktuk. Mr Weetaluktuk resigned from the AHC very early in the process. In the course of the consultations, Nicole O'Bomsawin, director of the Abenaki Museum, played an important role, co-chairing two meetings and providing invaluable advice on the orientation of the consultations.

The adopted strategy was to focus on Aboriginal cultural organizations which, in many cases, have a clear mandate from First Nations' and Inuit communities with respect to a range of cultural heritage issues, including archaeology. The following cultural organizations have participated in the consultations: the James Bay Cree Cultural Education Centre, the Institut culturel et éducatif montagnais, Avataq Cultural Institute, the Conseil Atikamekw-Montagnais, the Kanien'kehaka Raotitiohkwa Cultural Centre (Kahnawake), the Kanesetake Cultural Centre, the cultural department of the Conseil de la Nation Atikamekw, the Abenaki Museum, the Société d'histoire et d'archéologie de Pointe-Bleue and the cultural centre of the Huron-Wendat Nation. As well, there has been representation from a number of First Nations' Councils and participation from various members of the SEMMA (Société d'éducation muséologique en milieu amérindien). Efforts to obtain involvement at a higher political level, that of the Assembly of First Nations of Québec and Labrador were unsuccessful, likely due to a lack of resources on the part of that organization for tackling such issues.

Attempts were made to involve as wide a range of archaeologists as possible working on Aboriginal cultural heritage, whether members of the AAQ or not. Consulting archaeologists and those working for governments were well represented at the meetings though regrettably, University-based professionals were not.

In 1993, work focused on the preparation of the proceedings of the 1992 AAQ workshop which were printed and widely circulated. A presentation was also made at the First Forum on Montagnais Cultural Heritage, hosted by the Institut culturel et éducatif montagnais.

Four consultation meetings were held in 1994 and 1995. The first took place in February 1994 in Montreal and was attended by 16 people, including archaeologists based in Montreal and representatives of native organizations from south-western Québec. The second meeting in Wendake in March of the same year involved 18 people, mainly archaeologists based in Québec City and First Nations' representatives from eastern Québec.

The third meeting took place in Chisasibi in January 1995. Chisasibi is a Cree community located on the La Grande River near James Bay. For almost two decades, between 1973 and 1993, what must be amongst the largest archaeological salvage projects ever to take place in Canada were carried out on the lands of the Chisasibi people. This meeting was carried out in the framework of the two and a half day Cree Heritage and the Land Workshop attended by elders from eight of the nine Cree Nations, by local community cultural coordinators and by other community representatives. Brian Scribe of the AHC and two other archaeologists working in the area also participated as did numerous residents of Chisasibi.

The final meeting took place in Ste-Foy at Laval University in March 1995. Requested by the participants at both the Montreal and Wendake meetings, this was viewed as a forum where all of the regional participants could meet to summarize their views and make recommendations. Simultaneous translation (English - French, French - English) was provided. This 1_ day "forum" was attended by 25 native representatives and archaeologists and was organized as follows: An initial plenary session was followed by two workshops at which archaeologists, on the one hand, and Aboriginal participants, on the other, carried out discussions focused on both the proposed Statement of Principals and on longer-term actions that could be taken to ensure an on-going dialogue. The final half day was devoted to discussing the results of the workshops and the possibilities for follow-up actions.

Apart from these meetings, efforts to reach the archaeological community involved including complete summaries of the Montreal and Ste-Foy meetings in the AAQ newsletter and presentations by both the author and Nicole O'Bomsawin at the 1994 annual AAQ colloquium which were subsequently published in the Proceedings of the Colloquium and widely distributed amongst archaeologists in Québec.

Two organizational issues affecting the discussions should be noted. Although it was explained that the two organizations were collaborating on the consultations alone, and that the AAQ would be in no way committed by decisions taken by the CAA/AAC membership, evidently some confusion remained concerning the respective role and mandate of the CAA/AAC and the AAQ in the consultations process. Despite this problem, the collaboration was positive on the whole. In particular, the AAQ contributions (administrative support, communications with its members, supplementing funding for consultation meetings, funding for such things as the preparation of transcripts) were invaluable.

The second issue concerns the regional nature of the consultation process within Québec. While the involvement of new people at the different meetings brought in fresh ideas and served to broaden the consultation, it made it difficult to move much beyond a basic sharing of views. Although the final Forum in Ste-Foy was planned in order to unite and bring the discussions to another level, a number of those who participated in the Montreal and Wendake meetings were unfortunately unable to attend this final meeting.

Evaluation of Process

Although some examples of direct conflict can be cited, archaeology in Québec has generally proceeded without the dramatic confrontations between Aboriginal people and archaeologists that have occurred in some provinces. Indeed, over the last twenty years, there have been increasingly frequent examples of cooperation. Still, the prevailing view of archaeology and its practitioners held by Aboriginal people in Québec remains one of suspicion sometimes bordering on hostility. From the Aboriginal perspective, the history of archaeology in Québec, with rare exceptions, is one of researchers arriving, removing their cultural heritage and perhaps even disturbing burials or other sacred sites, without consulting them, and then leaving, most often, returning nothing to their communities. Of course, these feelings cannot be divorced from the larger political and social context: the fight for Aboriginal lands and title, and the struggles for self-government and to maintain Aboriginal culture and identity and, especially important in the present context, to maintain a sense of Native authority in matters relating to Aboriginal culture, history and traditions.

Despite the negative views which form part of the backdrop to the consultation meetings, Aboriginal participants indicated a certain openness to archaeology as expressed, for example, in the demand for access to archaeological information and for training programs, in the acceptance of the possibility of various forms of partnership and in the idea that the development of archaeological heritage resources may, in some cases, play a positive role in community development. Aboriginal participants asserted throughout the meetings the importance of their own traditional and spiritual knowledge existing in the context of a sacred relationship with the land and indicated that this knowledge can provide contextual and cultural information about the past and about specific sites which can never be obtained from archaeology. Contrasts between such knowledge and scientific knowledge were drawn throughout the meetings and the potential disturbance by archaeologists of spiritually significant sites and places was emphasized. Although archaeologists may wish to avoid burial sites, they may unwittingly stumble upon human remains within domestic sites, such as places where whole camps or villages died as a result of disease, or dig up or remove objects in other contexts that should not be touched. It was asserted that such places can only be identified in advance through consultations with community Elders. Another important theme in the meetings was the authority of the community to make decisions about what research is done and how it is carried out and the possible role of Aboriginal cultural organizations as mediators.

On the part of archaeologists there were several dominant themes. There were attempts made to correct the stereotype of "archaeologist as Native bone-digger" and to provide current information on what archaeologists actually do and how they go about it. The frustrations expressed by consulting archaeologists, who felt they were being asked to take responsibility for issues that were completely out of their hands and which should more logically be addressed to their clients or to government, was evident throughout the meetings as were concerns about which Aboriginal community, polity or organizations should be addressed for the purpose of consultations. Examples of sites that could not easily be linked to a modern Aboriginal group or where there have been dramatic changes in territory were discussed. There were many useful discussions focusing on other aspects of archaeological ethics, including issues such as freedom of scientific enquiry and objectivity. Although all appeared to be in agreement that burial and other sacred sites should never be touched without Aboriginal consent, there was concern relating to the definition of sacred sites and a fear that this notion could be manipulated to exclude archaeologists from all sites. The query on the part of several archaeologists as to why there were so few Aboriginal archaeologists resulted in useful discussions about education and training. Some archaeologists expressed an openness to learning more about Aboriginal values and traditional knowledge and agreed that training should be a two way process.

The above comments represent selected themes that stand out in the mind of the Québec representative rather than summaries of positions and issues discussed, which would be impossible to present here. Apart from such issues, much discussion in the later consultation meetings centred on the initial text of the proposed Guidelines and the later Statement of Principles.

The former document was presented at the Wendake meeting in March, 1994. Although there appeared to be general support, some archaeologists pointed out that the initial draft related mainly to academic research and did not adequately take into account the constraints inherent in archaeological impact assessment. At least one archaeologist suggested changes to eliminate the need to obtain Aboriginal consent. On the Aboriginal side, changes in wording were suggested to clarify and strengthen the text.

At the Forum in Ste-Foy last March, the revised Statement of Principles text was presented and discussed in detail. Aboriginal representatives delivered a thorough and blistering critique of this text, some noting that the wording was so vague that it had lost all meaning except as a general statement of good intentions. There was difficulty with the fact that the Statement of Principles text appeared to represent a retreat from the much stronger position of the Guidelines text. It was strongly felt that there should be a series of "whereas" statements in the Preamble explaining the necessity of such a document. In sum, this document cannot be considered to have been approved or accepted by the Native representatives at the Forum and by extension, those participating in the Québec consultations as a whole. Some people clearly felt political-level representation would be required for Aboriginal approval of any text and it was also felt that more community discussions were necessary. On the other hand, the document was not completely rejected and some participants indicated that it served a useful basis for further discussion.

On the part of the archaeologists present, discussion centred on whether the CAA/AAC text, or a modified version of it, should be recommended for adoption to the members of the AAQ. Some archaeologists were concerned by sections of the text which appear to assign responsibilities to archaeologists actually held by developers or government; others felt strongly that these sections would support consulting archaeologists in effecting changes in the way that developers deal with Aboriginal groups. It was concluded that there was an interest in the AAQ adopting a statement of principles to supplement the existing AAQ "Code of Ethics and Standards" but that further work was required before a specific text could be adopted. Several archaeologists simply wished for fuller discussions on possible implications for the discipline. It was recommended that a workshop of AAQ members be convened to review in detail guidelines or statements of principals adopted by other archaeological associations. Although supportive of the CAA/AAC initiative, archaeologists present were also reluctant to recommend that this text be adopted by the CAA/AAC without examining further the implications and the wording.


The greatest contribution of the consultation meetings was to open the door of communication. Archaeologists and Aboriginal peoples in Québec have finally begun to talk to each other in an honest and useful manner about many subjects of mutual interest. There is every indication that the dialogue initiated will be continued in Québec at various levels. For example, the intention expressed by First Nations representatives at the Forum to bring the issues raised to a newly created Aboriginal cultural organization, which brings together all or most of the Aboriginal, cultural organizations in the province. It was suggested that this organization and the AAQ could discuss the issues in parallel and then begin more concrete, joint discussions.

Clearly, there was no agreement on the Statement of Principles. The author shares the view expressed by many of the Aboriginal representatives that the text has been overly diluted but nevertheless supports its adoption by the CAA/AAC as a modest first step in the right direction _ hopefully, a statement of good intentions is better than none! This statement will not be written in stone; it can, in the future, be modified to reflect new concerns or unforeseen developments. The Statement does not represent a closing of the door opened during the consultations but, on the contrary, should serve to promote on-going discussions and dialogue at the provincial and local levels, in all parts of Canada.

The author feels that it is urgent for the CAA/AAC to follow-up on the work of the AHC with concrete actions: policies and programs to encourage Aboriginal involvement in all facets of archaeological endeavour.