54th Annual Meeting of the Canadian Archaeological Association

2022 Plenary Session

Thursday, April 28, 9:00 - 10:20 am

Image: Shannon Ford



Dr. Eldon Yellowhorn

Niitsitapi see their many traditions as having roots stretching into the ancient mobile hunting cultures that chased herds of buffalo over cliffs or into corrals. So when researchers first began to conduct systematic investigations of the archaeological record on the northern plains they employed a direct historical approach to aid their understanding of the material culture they found. Their analytical methods encouraged interpretations wherein Niitsitapi culture was the ethnographic analogue for ancient people occupying the northern plains and for whom big game hunting was the economic mainstay. Stealth and surprise were the reliable techniques that humans used ever since they began stalking small herds of bison upon the expansive landscape released from Ice Age conditions. Communal hunting followed a scenario similar to that envisioned at the Cactus Flower site, near the city of Medicine Hat, Alberta, where a few hunters concealed themselves close to the South Saskatchewan River and ambushed a small herd of bison going for a drink (Brumley 1975). Beginning about 4100 years ago, it was an ideal hunting spot but its final abandonment about 500 years later hinted at a strategy not involving ambush for pursuing their preferred quarry. Instead of a few hunters cooperating, they had invented a novel technique that required effective scheduling on a regional scale. Luring large herds of bison into their traps was a communal effort that required the labour of hundreds of people, but the enormous payoff was worth the effort. Thus the challenge was drawing together bands hunkered in their winter camps and dispersed across the countryside to a specific place at precisely the right time. This presentation considers the solution to that challenge.

Dr. Eldon Yellowhorn is from the Piikani Nation. He began is academic career at Simon Fraser University in 2002. He established the Department of First Nations Studies on the Burnaby campus in 2012 and was Chair until 2017. He is a long-time member of the Canadian Archaeological Association and served on its executive committee as President (2010–12).


We want you to do science for us: Archaeology at the service of bison hunters

Dr.  María Nieves Zedeño

With the return of bison to the northwestern Plains beginning in the 1990s and reinstatement of the tribal winter hunt in Yellowstone National Park in 2018, bison hunting archaeology has taken on a new significance for Native American descendant communities. While decades of Plains archaeology focused on site and artifact scales, new conceptual, technological, and analytical approaches to the material record of pedestrian bison hunting can provide a bird’s-eye view of the sheer magnitude of this enterprise. A long-term collaboration between the Blackfeet (Piikani) Tribe of Montana and the University of Arizona has provided an unparalleled opportunity to study Late Precontact bison hunting on the Montana foothills at a landscape scale--one that is commensurate with the tribe’s understanding of their ancestors’ partnership with bison and territory. It, too, supports early European observations of pedestrian bison hunting among the Piikani. This talk highlights the most significant findings of the Kutoyis Archaeological Project in the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and its impact on the archaeology of complex hunters.

Dr. María Nieves Zedeño is a professor of Anthropology and Director of the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology at The University of Arizona, Tucson, with sixteen years working in collaboration with the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana and with elders from the Blackfoot Confederacy.