A Call to Action: Gauging Canadian Archaeology’s Response to the Coastal Erosion Crisis

Thursday, May 3, 2018 - 9:10am to 3:10pm
The inundation and erosion of shorelines due to sea level rise and climate change have been characterized as a global archaeological crisis. With the longest coastline in the world, Canada sits at the apex of this dilemma. For the Indigenous Nations of Canada, this destruction represents a heritage catastrophe appalling in its scope – and one difficult to address within current funding paradigms and initiatives. The loss of an archaeological past has dire implications for Indigenous peoples seeking to assert their culture, heritage, history, and rights. A full-day session of papers will reveal a snapshot of the scope of the erosion catastrophe, and Canada’s current response to it. The following morning will be devoted to a workshop aimed at answering the following questions: What is the nature of the challenge we are facing? Is the current level of response adequate? What strategies have proved successful? Is a national program needed to address the crisis? How should Indigenous perspectives, aims, and personnel be integrated into the management and execution of the program? How might a national strategy co-exist with current academic, provincial, territorial, and Indigenous initiatives?
  • Matthew W. Betts, Canadian Museum of History
09:10 AM: Coastal Erosion and Archaeology Sites in Nova Scotia – Insights from Over Fifty Years of Evaluation
  • Catherine Cottreau-Robins - Nova Scotia Museum
Coastal Erosion and Archaeology Sites in Nova Scotia – Insights from Over Fifty Years of Evaluation Nova Scotia has a coastline that stretches 7500 kilometers. Nowhere in the province is more than a 30- minute drive from the ocean. Needless-to-say, Nova Scotia’s social, cultural, ecological and economic values are intrinsically linked to the sea. The changing state of the coast and specifically the problem of coastal erosion, has been part of community and management conversations for decades. Over the years, archaeologists have witnessed the impacts of coastal erosion to a range of coastal heritage assets. Many have contributed to the dialogue, with varied results. This paper examines the issue of coastal erosion and archaeology sites in Nova Scotia and the historical development of initiatives to address the crisis.  Starting with a multi-year assessment project in the 1970s and the extensive work among archaeologists in the Maritime Peninsula region, the paper will review the ebb and flow of activity since that time, and the resurgence of focus with the devastation of Hurricane Juan, the emergency situations since then, and the rising intensity of the issue resulting in new collaborations and current legislative development.
09:30 AM: The COASTAL Archaeology Project: A Shared Authority Partnership to Address the Coastal Erosion Crisis on Nova Scotia’s South Shore
  • Matthew Betts - Canadian Museum of History
  • M. Gabe Hrynick - University of New Brunswick
  • Catherine Cottreau-Robins - Nova Scotia Museum
  • Jeff Purdy - Acadia First Nation
  • Heather MacLeod-Leslie - Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiations Office
The coastal erosion crisis isn’t just an archaeological disaster; for Indigenous peoples it has significant political and cultural impacts. In Canada, recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions weigh archaeological resources as key evidence of routine and historical use of land and resources in rights-based negotiations. As a result, the loss of Indigenous archaeological sites has significant implications for Indigenous people. This creates further impetus for archaeologists engaged in coastal erosion research to formulate responsive, engaged, and collaborative research methodologies. This paper outlines a new shared authority archaeological project on Nova Scotia’s South Shore. COASTAL (Community Observation, Assessment, and Salvage of Threatened Archaeological Legacy) is conducted in partnership with Acadia First Nation, Nova Scotia’s Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage, Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiations Office (also known as Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative), and the University of New Brunswick. The project seeks to engage and empower Mi’kmaw partners in the preservation of their threatened archaeological heritage. Our paper outlines preliminary results from our recent fieldwork and details our survey, mapping, and erosion vulnerability assessment protocols. However, the paper focuses on our collaborative approach to the management of the project, which we believe may provide a new model for community-based erosion archaeology.
09:50 AM: Second Wind: How the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia are meeting the forces of nature
  • Heather MacLeod-Leslie
  • Kaitlin MacLean
Coastal Erosion is an important issue that affects the Mi’kmaw Nation in Nova Scotia; Mi’kmaw communities, ancestors, archaeology and potentially implementation of rights and title are under threat.  The Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office (KMKNO), with an Assembly-defined mandate for the protection of archaeological and sacred sites (including burials), has been involved in community-driven coastal erosion research, crisis response, and development of new approaches for a decade with partners ranging from government bureaucracies to industry and academic researchers.  This paper will explore how the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia have been affected and identify the recent relationship with climate change through archaeological resources and cultural heritage.   We will outline some of our experiences in Nova Scotia as archaeologists working on behalf of the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia and will discuss challenges faced, lessons learned, and some priorities for the Mi’kmaw Nation moving forward in Nova Scotia – a province whose border is almost completely coastline, save for less than 25 kilometres…and that may disappear beneath the rising sea soon.
10:30 AM: Rising tides and shrinking shorelines: Coastal change and archaeological sites on PEI
  • Erin  Mundy - Aboriginal Affairs Secretariat, Government of PEI
  • Helen Kristmanson - Aboriginal Affairs Secretariat, Government of PEI
Coastal erosion and rising sea levels are major concerns for Prince Edward Island (PEI) whose shoreline is eroding an average of 28 cm per year. Both are especially threatening to archaeological sites in PEI, as a high proportion of sites are located along the coast or near watercourses. In response to the growing effects of climate change, the PEI Provincial Archaeology Office initiated a shoreline study in 2016. The goal of this study was to identify and document areas of high vulnerability and archaeological potential. Using coastal change data (from 1968 – 2010) and elevation data, staff members identified archaeological sites that are vulnerable to coastal erosion and sea level rise. Sixty-one (61) archaeological sites were identified to have low elevation and medium risk erosion (located 0-2 m above sea level and 0.2 – 0.8 m/year erosion), and 32 sites were identified to have low elevation and high risk erosion (0-2 m ASL and > 0.8 m/year erosion). Over the past two years, staff members have attempted to visit thirty-six (36) of these vulnerable sites. This presentation will discuss the benefits and challenges of this project and outline future work.
10:50 AM: Coastal Erosion, Climate Change and Archaeology in Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Jamie Brake - Nunatsiavut Government
  • Lisa  Rankin - Memorial University
Like other political jurisdictions, Newfoundland and Labrador is grappling with the consequences of climate change which are not only threatening, but actively impacting significant archaeological resources.  In Newfoundland, attempts have already been made to delay the ongoing effects of coastal erosion on heritage resources located on geologically submerging shorelines, but climate change is affecting the entire province; accelerating shoreline subsidence, and exposing new regions to coastal erosion and storm surge.  Other climate change-related impacts, such as melting permafrost, are harder to detect and are potentially more worrisome since we do not yet have an understanding of how serious these problems currently are in our region.  In this paper we discuss both coastal erosion and climate change-related threats to archaeological resources in Newfoundland and Labrador; describe the impact of climate change on the Indigenous archaeological record which is most at risk; outline what has been done to address this threat to date; and explore the opportunities to address this challenge as we move forward. We suggest that a multi-regulatory framework, inclusive of the Indigenous communities, is essential to adequately address this overwhelming crisis.
11:10 AM: Assessing impacts of contemporary climate change on the preservation of the archaeological record of the Dog Island region, Labrador
  • James Woollett - Université Laval, Centré d'études nordiques
  • Najat Bhiry - Université Laval, Centré d'études nordiques
  • Susan Kaplan - Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center, Bowdoin College
  • Heloïse Barbel - Université Laval, Centré d'études nordiques
  • Natasha  Roy - Université France-Comté, Centre d'études nordiques
Coastal north-central Labrador is of specific archaeological importance for the preservation of its sites and cultural landscapes representing multiple cultural traditions and about 5000 years of occupation.  Diverse factors such as isostatic rebound, the distribution of coastal tundra, cold and damp climatic conditions and the development of permafrost have fostered exceptional preservation conditions for whole sites and for organic remains.  Current climate change processes impinge on these conditions, however, and the lack of diachronic studies of contemporary site taphonomy hinders our capacity to adequately assess the nature, scale and speed of their impacts.   Long-term research projects focused on specific sites and regions can provide a means to grapple with the problem. This presentation reviews site taphonomy data compiled since 2000 by archaeological field projects in the Dog Island region of north-central Labrador.  Survey, excavation and soil coring records, paleoenvironmental surveys and photographic documentation are used to identify current threats to archaeological sites and landscapes.  Sea level rise and its attendant processes of coastal erosion comprise one measureable risk factor.  This study suggests that more subtle and ultimately more dangerous factors may include the loss of permafrost patches associated with peat and anthropogenic soils, the subsequent erosion of the soil column and the forestation and shrubbification of peat and tundra environments where well-preserved sites are currently found.  A proposed programme of remote sensing, site assessment and instrumentation and mapping provides a set of tools for monitoring and measuring the scale of these threats in the region, in the immediate future.
11:30 AM: The Past is Washing and Melting Away: Developing Strategies for Saving the Arctic's Cultural Heritage and Environmental History
  • Susan A Kaplan - Arctic Museum, Bowdoin College
In 2016 archaeologists visited Avayalik-1, in far northern Labrador, TMNP, to assess the stability of this important Middle and Late Dorset site. Cultural deposits found frozen in 1978 have thawed, prehistoric structures along the edges of the Avayalik-1 terrace and an adjacent cove are in various stages of collapse. Thawed deposits are tumbling down inclines, leaving trails of cultural debris. A small test pit in House-1 revealed that while deposits there are no longer frozen, recovery of important organics is still possible. Faunal remains were recovered, along with knotted baleen, spun cordage, deteriorated wood, and soils rich in botanical and insect remains. Avayalik-1 and other prehistoric sites on neighboring islands and the mainland are important to understanding the region's prehistory and the ecology of the North Atlantic before the advent of commercial whaling. The processes compromising Avayalik-1 are endangering other sites in northern Labrador and throughout the Arctic. Given that we cannot save every site, what criteria should we use to identify the known sites that should get our attention, and the regions needing intensive survey and identification of endangered cultural heritage resources? Can we collectively enlist the help of geologists in modeling locations of the most endangered sites and frozen deposits? Can we convince funding agencies to support excavations of priority sites, as well as the conservation and storage that will be required? Are there lessons we can learn from other archaeological communities about how to proceed?
11:50 AM: Archaeological Survey and Salvage Dig on the Qulliapik Site (JlGu-3), Pujjunaq (Mansel Island, Nunavut): an example of site erosion in Nunavik’s coastal region.
  • Elsa Cencig - Avataq Cultural Institute
  • Tommy Weetaluktuk - Avataq Cultural Institute
  • Susan Lofthouse - Avataq Cultural Institute
Coastal erosion is a critical threat to the archaeological record as formerly perma-frozen ground is melting across the Arctic. In Canada’s Low Arctic, perma-frozen ground is already lower in the substrate, so as this melts faster through climate warming, the archaeological matrix is increasingly exposed to potential erosion. In Nunavik, as in much of the Canadian Arctic, most of the archaeological heritage is found along the coast. Sites found along gravel beach ridges and sandy bluffs appear to be particularly vulnerable to this erosion. Our most recent research project, Pujjunaq: Archaeology and History Project, is an example to shed some light on this problematic. Pujjunaq is a large island located in northeastern Hudson Bay, near Akulivik and Ivujivik. In collaboration with the northern village of Akulivik, this project involves archaeological survey, excavation, toponymy and oral history, in order to document the extent of human occupancy of the island, from Pre-Dorset to Inuit times. An extensive archaeological survey in 2014 identified a number of sites under threat by erosion, and in 2017 a salvage excavation of the endangered Qulliapik (JlGu-3) site took place. The site is composed of both Dorset and Thule Inuit houses, with the Dorset presence particularly under threat. Excavations revealed excellent preservation of organic artifacts from the Late Dorset period. The survey recorded a total of 110 sites concentrated along the coastline and successively occupied for over 3800 years, indicating a rich history of human occupation on Pujjunaq that needs quick action in order to be preserved.
01:30 PM: Climate Change and the Coastal Erosion Crisis in the Northwest Territories
  • Glen MacKay - Culture and Heritage Division, Government of the Northwest Territories
  • Naomi Smethurst - Culture and Heritage Division, Government of the Northwest Territories
Archaeological sites on the Beaufort Sea Coast in the Western Canadian Arctic are under significant threat from coastal erosion, and are likely to become increasingly vulnerable as the rapid pace of climate change in Canada’s North continues (or accelerates). Our paper will provide an overview of the coastal erosion crisis in the this region, highlighting some of the key factors – many climate-driven – that contribute to the erosion of archaeological sites, such as sea level rise, thawing of ice-rich permafrost, lengthening of the sea ice-free season, and others. We will also outline what we stand to lose from the archaeological record if the erosion of archaeological sites proceeds unchecked. Management planning for the coastal erosion crisis is in its earliest stages in the Northwest Territories and is constrained by significant knowledge gaps, including a full picture of the distribution of archaeological sites in the region and how areas of greatest archaeological significance intersect with areas of highest coastal erosion – key factors for prioritizing limited resources. In preparation for the afternoon workshop, we will offer some ideas on what will be required to mount an effective response to the coastal erosion crisis in the Northwest Territories.
01:50 PM: Managing Loss: Grounded Visualization and the Assessment of Cultural Landscape Erosion Risk in the Canadian Arctic.
  • Michael O'Rourke - University of Toronto
Cultural landscapes are an effective means of conceptualizing the heritage character of the lived landscape, an approach which has been applied in heritage management programmes around the world. A central aspect of cultural landscape management efforts is their particular attention to the broad typology of values which may be ascribed to places of cultural importance. This presentation addresses the results of a cultural landscape vulnerability model developed for the Kugmallit Bay area of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Northwest Territories, Canada. The model has been developed to mobilize notions of value and risk in the determination of threatened places of cultural importance by employing the GIS-facilitated method of ‘grounded visualization’. It is argued here that grounded visualization methods provide a robust approach to cultural landscape management given their capacity to address qualitative and quantitative accounts of risk and value from a range of sources in a non-hierarchical, flexible and iterative fashion.
02:10 PM: Climate Change and Heritage Resources at Herschel Island, Yukon
  • Ty Heffner - Yukon Government
  • P.Gregory Hare - Yukon Government
  • Christian Thomas - Yukon Government
Herschel Island (Qikiqtaruk) has a unique and complex history of human settlement and use, with sites related to Inuvialuit, Fur Traders, Whalers, Missionaries and the North West Mounted Police. The majority of these sites are situated near the shoreline and are being actively transformed by coastal erosion and other environmental changes. This paper provides an overview of Qikiqtaruk heritage sites, with examples of ongoing environmental impacts, past mitigation attempts, and current challenges.
02:30 PM: Responding to the Coastal Erosion Crisis and the Changing Archaeological Landscape of Ivvavik National Park
  • Ashley Piskor - Parks Canada, Western Arctic Field Unit
  • Anna Irrgang - Arctic Coastal Dynamics, PhD Student, Research Unit Potsdam
This paper discusses the effects of coastal erosion on archaeological sites in Ivvavik National Park and the current response to it. Ivvavik, located along the Yukon North Slope within the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, is rich in archaeological material that provides evidence of early human migration into the Canadian Arctic and the development of Inuvialuit culture. Ivvavik’s coastline is being significantly impacted by coastal erosion. Numerous sites have already eroded and many of the remaining are threatened or are at imminent risk of eroding. Research indicates that by 2100, more than 50% of the documented archaeological sites along Arctic coasts will likely be eroded. Throughout the Park co-management planning process, Inuvialuit Stakeholders identified 12 culturally significant coastal sites emphasizing their need for continued protection. In response, Parks Canada’s Western Arctic Field Unit (WAFU) implemented a coastal monitoring program to monitor the extent and impact of erosion on these archaeological sites and continues to work closely with its Indigenous partners to document traditional and local knowledge, and the archaeology, of these sites before they are eroded. Recently, WAFU has partnered with coastal erosion experts at the Alfred Wegener Institute to better understand erosion rates and future shoreline projections to more effectively inform mitigation decisions. It is our hope that through continued partnership with Indigenous stakeholders and by introducing specialized scientific research and advanced technologies, our team will be better equipped to strategically respond to the rapidly changing landscape and to the loss of archaeological sites along the coast in culturally appropriate ways. 
02:50 PM: Coastal Erosion Monitoring at Gulf Islands National Park Reserve
  • Laura  Peterson - Gulf Islands National Park Reserve
  • Bill  Perry - Parks Canada
The lands and waters of the southern Gulf Islands are deeply rooted to the Coast Salish cultural landscape.  Many places and features like shoreline shell middens bear witness to this cultural and spiritual relationship.  While stretching back millennia, they are also being impacted on a daily basis with fluctuating tides, currents, waves, boat wake and storm surges, and enhanced by sea level rise.  This paper considers the importance of applying a “how to” approach to understanding the rate of erosion to selected midden sites.  The condition of at-risk coastal archaeological sites were monitored by: working in partnership with the Hul’q’umi’num and WSANEC speaking peoples; use of a technique that is simple and replicable between recorders who may have little formal archaeological training; and by applying the protocol in two national parks with an overseeing archaeologist. This paper will present the lessons learned and offer a case study for other Parks Canada coastal heritage places.