(HYBRID IN-PERSON/ONLINE) Supporting Well-Being in Indigenous Archaeology: Enacting Trauma-Informed Practices

Session Hosting Format: 
in-person session
Friday, May 5, 2023 - 8:00am to 12:00pm
Kluskap C and D (Hybrid)
  • Sara Beanlands, Boreas Heritage Consulting
  • Jodi Howe (Mi'kmaq), Confederacy of Mainland Mi'kmaq
  • Michelle Lelièvre, Department of Anthropology, William & Mary
  • Kisha Supernant, (Métis/Papaschase/British), Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta
Contact Email: 
Session Description (300 word max): 

At more than any point in the history of Canadian archaeology, Indigenous academics, knowledge keepers, artists, Elders, and youth are now participating and leading archaeological research and cultural resource management projects. At the same time, as individuals and institutions work towards reconciliation and decolonization, more archaeologists recognize the opportunities that archaeology can provide to foster land-based learning, to reconnect Indigenous communities to their lands and ancestors, and to support the well-being of Indigenous peoples (see Schaepe et al. 2017; 2021).

And yet, accompanying this progress in archaeology is an increasing awareness that archaeological field sites, labs, and classrooms have not always been safe places for Indigenous peoples. Many Indigenous faculty members, students, and CRM personnel balance cultural stress, intergenerational trauma, and structural racism with the physical and mental toll that the demands of archaeology exact. Moreover, our Indigenous and non-Indigenous colleagues have documented the harassment and violence that many women, members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, gender non-conforming individuals, and racialized peoples risk while working or volunteering in archaeology (see Hodgetts et al. 2020; Voss 2021 a, b). And Indigenous peoples risk secondary trauma when working on projects where cultural protocols are violated or ignored. 

We propose a session that would begin with a panel of Indigenous archaeologists and other Indigenous peoples with experience in archaeology who would share their experiences—both positive and negative—working in this field. These presentations would be followed by a talking circle facilitated by Kisha Supernant during which conference attendees will ask questions of the panelists and share their own experiences. Our hope is that the talking circle will result in recommendations to archaeologists—especially project directors and principal investigators—for how to enact trauma-informed approaches to field- and lab-work, teaching, mentoring, and community collaborations.

08:30 AM: My Experiences and Trauma Informed Perspectives of Archaeology as an Indigenous Practitioner
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Sarah Hazell - CAA

Over twenty-five years ago, I was a bright-eyed archaeology student eager to learn about anything related to the human past. I’ve learned that my undergraduate experience was unusual because I quickly became part of a project in the Middle East, rather than a field school, which I returned to each year and was guided by a kind and supportive male mentor archaeologist. In this way, I was also insulated and protected from the greater academic milieu. It wasn’t until graduate school and later that I routinely experienced racism and gender-based forms of mistreatment (including lateral violence), despite people in positions of authority knowing about these incidents and doing nothing about it. These experiences have greatly impacted my academic trajectory and the work that I do now to provide culturally sensitive and safe spaces for Indigenous archaeological capacity building in Ontario. In this presentation, I will explore how my experiences as a female Indigenous archaeologist have led to my current work addressing issues of importance to Indigenous groups by providing training and developing community-based research projects which are grounded in cultivating long-term relationships.

08:45 AM: Navigating Archaeological Field Work Through a Trauma Informed Lens
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Kamden Nicholas - Mi’kmaw

Beginning field work in 2016, Kamden Nicholas has a variety of experiences relating to archaeological work from the beginning stages of site surveys to artifact processing and cataloging. Being able to navigate the different institutions they find themselves in, Kamden has developed a unique take on what it means to operate in a trauma informed manner. As a Mi'kmaw archaeologist, Kamden has often found themselves caught between individuals and institutions which don't necessarily align with her indigenous values. Being trauma informed, Kamden has been able to take these experiences, both good and bad and apply them to her day to day work as she continues her work in the sector. 

09:00 AM: sākihisowin, ānwēhtasowin, and sasīpisowin: The ups and downs of being an Indigenous researcher in Manitoba
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Brandi Cable - University of Manitoba
  • Kayla Shaganash - University of Manitoba

Despite anthropology and archaeology having real-world impacts on the lives of Indigenous peoples, the field has not always been kind to the Indigenous researchers within it. From the perspectives of a recent graduate and soon-to-be graduate of the University of Manitoba, Cree and Anishinabe researchers discuss their experiences in the classroom, in research, and in professional development spaces; the good and the bad. Indigenous peoples provide a unique perspective in the field, which can be a huge benefit to research. Yet, these perspectives are not always recognized or appreciated by those we work with. Sometimes our Indigeneity can even be used to undermine us, hurt us, or be used for personal gain. We have come to recognize that despite having to overcome so many barriers and obstacles to get to where we are, not everyone is always on our side. As for those who have supported us on our journeys, we love and appreciate them so much more than they know. Imposter Syndrome is a very real threat to Indigenous researchers everywhere and having the support and trust of at least one good mentor is enough to keep us going.

09:15 AM: Practicing Cultural Humility in Archaeology: A Trauma-Informed Framework for Research on the Residential School Experience
Presentation format: Online - pre-recorded
  • Lindsay M.  Montgomery - University of Toronto
  • Elizabeth  Montgomery - University of Toronto

Over the past decade, a growing number of archaeologists have used collaborative community-based (CBPR) methods to document the history of residential schools in the United States and Canada.  While tribal collaboration is critical, archaeologists' increasing engagement with individual experiences of historical trauma through oral history interviewing can also benefit from a more interpersonal approach to research. We draw on concepts within trauma-informed psychotherapy, particularly the principle of cultural humility, to propose a new method for engaging in research on the residential school experience. A trauma-informed approach to archaeology can help develop a shared understanding of the connection between individual experiences at residential schools and community experiences of trauma, the relationship between cultural norms and individual needs, and the linkages between historical experiences of colonialism and contemporary forms of oppression. Cultural humility as a trauma-informed framework can provide guiding principles that extend beyond the clinical environment to help create research protocols that honour the lived experiences of Indigenous communities. Ultimately, we see cultural humility as a long-term approach to relationship building that maintains trust between Indigenous communities and archaeologists and fosters cultural reclamation as a form of healing. 

09:45 AM: The Good Credit Indians – Archaeology from an Indigenous Perspective
Presentation format: Online - pre-recorded
  • Jordan Jamieson - Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation

I look to share from personal experience the difficulties and obstacles of becoming involved in the archaeological process, as well as the benefits and tremendous upsides it brings. For many indigenous communities there is an unseen cost of entry when trying to become involved in their cultural materials, and it comes in the form of compromising on their values from a cultural perspective.

To begin I will outline some of the foundational differences between the indigenous perspective and the western perspective. I examine how heavily influenced the outlook on cultural materials are viewed through that western lens, supported by legislation that stems from colonialism. Next, the importance of building relationships to the descendant communities, in whose cultural materials we work in. Not only that but pushing to evolve the relationships into meaningful change and building the capacity in which communities can become in control of their cultural materials.

As we look to better understand the past through archaeological materials, it’s imperative that we begin to recognize the disparity and open the conversation of how we view, curate and interpret those cultural materials and remains.

10:00 AM: Balancing Well-Being While Walking in Multiple Worlds
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Natasha Jones - Memorial University of Newfoundland

Indigenous graduate research occurs at the intersection of Indigenous and Western worlds, and it is not uncommon for Indigenous students to experience internal conflict as worlds collide. Feelings of stress, heightened emotions, and a struggle to hold onto a sense of self are not rare. As a woman of Mi’kmaw and Settler descent, I was already walking in two worlds prior to entering the world of archaeology – a discipline that has objectified Indigenous peoples, subordinated our needs, disassociated us from our pasts, and appropriated our cultures. My passion for archaeology was brought into being because I wanted to work for my community and foster a better relationship between Mi’kmaq in Ktaqmkuk and archaeology given that past research has mostly been conducted on us - not with or for us. Now, after having walked in multiple worlds, I know too well the struggle of balancing mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being while having to navigate systems and spaces that do not always align with my ways of being and knowing. Even with these challenges, my path is forward, and I am focused on doing respectful, reciprocal, and relevant research done in a good way with a good heart. 

10:15 AM: The Good, the bad, and the ugly: Innu archaeology in Labrador
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Jodie Ashini - Innu Nation
  • Scott Neilsen - Labrador Campus, Memorial University

Innu have a past, a present, and a future. Archaeological research in Labrador also has a past, a present, and a future. Innu and archaeologists both want to understand the past because this knowledge is important for the future. For the most part, Innu and archaeologists have built our knowledges of the past in different ways. As a result, our present understanding of Innu history is different. Innu knowledge of the tshiashinnuat is built from events that our ancestors participated in and memories and habits that have been passed down and acted out over thousands of generations. Archaeologist’s knowledge of the “Maritime Archaic, Intermediate and Recent Indians" is built from research they have conducted and the hypotheses and habits they published and learned over three generations. In this presentation we will outline some of the ways that archaeologists have engaged with Innu and Innu archaeological history over the last half century, and will identify some of the good, the bad, and the ugly that has resulted from these interactions. Although we do not present any solutions for archaeologists working in Labrador, we do know that reconciliation cannot occur without telling the truth of our relationship.

10:30 AM: Reclaiming Deep Time Indigenous Links to the Land: Paths to Healing
Presentation format: In-Person
  • paulette steeves - Algoma University

Indigenous archaeologies weave Indigenous voices, knowledge, and histories through Western archaeologies to reclaim and revive Indigenous histories and humanities erased and denied by Western archaeology. This is not an archaeology of resistance; it is an archaeology of reclaiming and revivance, weaving paths to healing and reconciliation. Archaeologists often identify the Indigenous people of Turtle Island as Asians from Asia, a culture and country that did not exist in the deep past. Yet, in many Indigenous genesis histories, Indigenous people say they have been here since time immemorial. The traditional Western archaeological story argues that Indigenous people have been in the Western Hemisphere for 12- 15 kya. Disconnecting Indigenous people from their ancient homelands and identities is violent, destructive, and ongoing. In listening to oral histories and weaving them through archaeological evidence, I argue that Indigenous people have been in the Western Hemisphere for over 130 kya. Reclaiming and rewriting deep Indigenous history and relinking Indigenous people to their ancient homelands is a path to healing for Indigenous people. Understanding Indigenous people’s links to homelands in the deep past leads to decolonizing minds and hearts and informs and addresses racism and discrimination in contemporary populations.

11:00 AM: Reflections on Archaeology on Siksika: Old Sun Community College Initiatives
Presentation format: Online - pre-recorded
  • Vivian Ayoungman - Old Sun Community College
  • Lindsay Amundsen-Meyer - University of Calgary

Over the last several years, Old Community College has been working with the University of Calgary on several archaeology projects, including a culture sites inventory and archaeology field school. This work is part of a large initiative by Old Sun to develop a Heritage Certificate Program. The goal of these programs is to engage Siksika students with culturally meaningful curriculum to foster interest in heritage, and to teach skills needed for successful employment in archaeology. We want to increase capacity of our community to study our own history, in a culturally meaningful way, so that we are no longer on the outside of these projects looking in. In this panel, I will reflect on my experiences on these projects and working with archaeologists, and how Indigenous communities such as the Siksika can work with technical professionals to find a meaningful, respectful and Indigenous driven path forward.

11:15 AM: Promoting a Trauma Informed Archaeology
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Jodi  Howe

The concept of a trauma informed archaeology works to identify the positive and negative impacts that archaeology can have on Mi’kmaq individuals and the communities that they come from. In this presentation I will utilize my capacity as a Mi’kmaq woman working in the field and as a contractor responsible for archaeological research and community engagement, I hope to bring a unique perspective to the broader archaeological community. My goal is to create a safe space where meaningful conversations can begin the process of enacting change within the discipline where Indigenous people can enter and thrive in their archaeological careers long-term. In order for this work to succeed, non-indigenous archaeologists need to be involved and aware of the challenges that we (indigenous people) face when working with our ancestors’ belongings in such an emotionless & scientific space. Development has repeatedly damaged the relationship that Indigenous people have with the land and can negatively impact archaeological collaboration moving forward. I have seen first hand that communities can experience trauma and anger for generations if the archaeological process isn’t respected. I have also experienced the overwhelming positive impacts that can happen when 2 eyed seeing becomes more than a statement without action.

11:30 AM: M̌ṇúxvit approach - to unite or become one. Archaeology for the Haíɫzaqvv Nation
Presentation format: In-Person
  • Elroy White - Heiltsuk Nation (Central Coast Archaeology)

Elroy White is a Haíɫzaqv archaeologist who represents his Nation by leading CRM and internally-driven research projects. Guided by his potlatch knowledge and by combining it with the tools of western archaeology, he has become a leader in an archaeological profession dominated by outside archaeology companies, government, industry, and world of academia. He is inspired by the Haíɫcistut process and by the Hstrymkrs who encourage First Nation youth to rewrite history. The Haíɫcistut process is a form of reconciliation in British Columbia however, the Haíɫzaqv leadership translated it by 'turning thing around and to make them right again’ because they have never done anything wrong.

Elroy White shares his positive and negative experiences in academia, CRM and internally driven archaeological research in his territory in British Columbia. Although working with colleagues first, a land-based process called Ecosystem Based Management shifted the balance of resource management and academia to the Haíɫzaqv leadership. He works with intergenerational crew members utilizing updated technologies. All data gathered are administered by his Nation. He combines operational and resource management by uniting them to the benefit of his people in effect to become one, the M̌ṇúxvit approach otherwise Archaeology for the Haíɫzaqv Nation first.