Testing the Waters: Fathoming the Archaeology of Lake Systems in the Canadian Boreal Forest

Friday, May 4, 2018 - 1:30pm to 3:30pm
Ambassador B
Indigenous peoples have inhabited the Canadian boreal forest since plants and animals first spread into the ecozone following deglaciation. It is this landscape where people adapted through time to become the diverse groups that are present today. One of the most striking and significant characteristics of this hinterland is the thousands of large freshwater lakes that have often been overlooked from a cultural perspective. Archaeology, ethnohistory, and oral history demonstrate that along with the other waterways that connect them, these lakes were, and still are, an essential part of Indigenous peoples’ transportation networks. Even more importantly, lakes continue to be places that people inhabit for longer periods of time and repeatedly (i.e., representing their homes, ceremonial centres, grocery stores, banks, and other important locales). In this session, presenters will celebrate these significant Canadian subarctic geographic features and the landscape, cultures, and history associated with them.
  • Scott Neilsen, Department of Archaeology, Labrador Institute, Grenfell, Memorial University
  • Jill Taylor-Hollings, Department of Anthropology, Lakehead University
01:30 PM: Blood is Thicker than Water: Long-Term Cultural Insights from Two Lakes along the Bloodvein River (Miskweyaabiziibee) in Northwestern Ontario
  • Jill Taylor-Hollings - Lakehead University
The Miskweyaabiziibee (Bloodvein River) flows from the east side of Woodland Caribou Provincial Park in northwestern Ontario into Manitoba, terminating at Lake Winnipeg. While this Canadian Heritage River is a boreal forest watercourse, it is unusual because it forms a tributary between lakes that are considered to be culturally distinctive units by Ojibwe traditional knowledge holders, present day park users, and likely people in the precontact. Although there has been limited research across this portion of the central Canadian Subarctic, collaborations allowed the rare opportunity to study the Bloodvein River in Ontario one or two lakes at a time across its entirety of approximately 106 km. Working together with three Ojibwe communities having traditional territories in the park and Ontario Parks’ employees, a series of research surveys were conducted resulting in learning about archaeology, ethnohistory, oral history, and parks management information. Results of the Knox and Paishk Lake studies will be discussed including: highlighting the benefits of these community partnership projects; the learned culture history that we now know spans from the Middle Period through to the present; and some Indigenous perspectives.
01:50 PM: Stories from an Innu Hunter and their implications for conducting archaeology in the hinterland of the Québec-Labrador Peninsula.
  • Scott Neilsen - Memorial University
In 1970 the Québécois anthropologist Serge Bouchard spent time with the Innu hunter Mathieu Mestokosho, and recorded stories of his childhood and adult life in Nitassinan, on the Québec-Labrador peninsula, which he later published in the book Récits de Mathieu Mestokosho, chasseur Innu, and the English translation Caribou Hunter: A song of a vanished Innu life. Looking at the life history presented in these books through an archaeological lens provides valuable information for boreal forest archaeologists, and Cultural Resource Managers, to consider when planning and undertaking fieldwork, and perhaps more importantly, when writing about the archaeological history of this region. In this presentation information contained within the stories of Mathieu Mestokosho is used to comment on the importance of lakes and rivers for mobility, habitation, and resources, on the degree and quantity of sites that archaeologists can expect to be present in Nitassinan, and on the conception of archaeological and cultural history.
02:10 PM: Hocus Pocus: A Reservoir Basin’s Eroding Shoreline and the Artifact Disappearing Act
  • Brad Hyslop - Vesselquest
Lac Seul is a large water body located within the boreal forest region of northwestern Ontario. The construction of a nearby hydro-electric dam in 1930 increased water levels on the lake by up to five meters. Most archaeological sites, located at or near the shorelines, have been impacted to some degree. Artifacts, features, and other evidence indicating utilization by previous cultural groups have been altered or entirely washed away. I will outline some of the dramatic changes that have occurred to Lac Seul resulting from the inundation and subsequent erosion of the shoreline around the lake. Techniques utilized when confronted with the “archaeology of the invisible” will be discussed within the context of three sites that have been investigated on Lac Seul.
02:30 PM: A homeland ill defined by lines on maps, drawn by others.
  • Anthony  Jenkinson - Tshikapisk Foundation
  • Chelsee  Arbour - Memorial University of Newfoundland
Amongst a nomadic people such as the Innu/Iyu for whom epic journeys by small family groups were almost routine, the land became defined by its lakes, rivers and travel routes and by stories and human events associated with points in this familiar landscape. For the Innu inhabitants it was most certainly not defined by the cartographic abstractions representing jurisdictional divisions conceived and imposed upon, and established without reference to, the system of peoples, regional identities and natural features, which it supplanted. Particularly during the seasons of open water, Innu/Iyu travel mostly followed watercourses and lake systems and these waterways and wetlands produced much of the food depended on, not only from the water but in the more heavily vegetated valleys through which rivers flowed between lake systems. A way of living without fixed settlements and incorporating travel over immense distances produced a relationship with territory which was simultaneously both intimate and expansive and which was quite different from that of urban dwellers or agricultural societies. The establishment of the settler state of Canada and the earlier colonies of which it was eventually constituted brought a way of defining territory which was both alien and mystifying to those who found themselves divided and dispossessed by the exercises in cartography, missionary endeavour and colonial administration which followed.
02:50 PM: Beaver ponds and swamps and infilled ponds, oh my! The Boreal Forest grocery/general store.
  • Kyle Belanger - Circle CRM Group Inc.
  • Jean-Paul Foster
  • Eugene Gryba
Due to the largescale oil extraction in northeastern Alberta, archaeologists have had the opportunity torecord thousands of sites within the Boreal Forest region, stretching between the area near FortMcMurray and the Birch Mountains in the north to Christina Lake by Conklin in the south. Many of thePrecontact sites were found along rivers, streams, and lakes in the region; however, in the past not allwater features have been treated equally when it came to identifying archaeological potential. Thispaper will explore three geographical regions in the oil sands that have had extensive HistoricalResource Impact Assessments carried out over a large area. It will reveal that small water bodies, suchas wetlands, bogs, marshes, beaver ponds and infilled ponds, have not been equally weighted as highpotential features within the landscape. For the purposes of Precontact habitation patterns and land usepractices, these features, which are often indistinguishable from the surrounding forest in orthophotos,topographic maps, and other data sources traditionally used by archaeologists in pre-field planning,represent resource availability equaling that of the larger, extant water bodies. We present a number ofarchaeological sites identified along the margins of smaller water sources that feature assemblagescomparable to those recorded near larger lakes.
03:10 PM: Negative Test Pits: Are You Positive?
  • Brad Hyslop - Vesselquest
In many places, such as Lac Seul in Northwestern Ontario, the boreal forest remains a challenging landscape for conducting archaeological fieldwork and research. I will outline certain characteristics of this environment in terms of the “invisible footprint” and also describe difficulties encountered when working within this ecozone. The methods initially used to test interior forested areas of the Subarctic are outlined. Issues regarding determining the positive or negative status of a test pit will be discussed. Revised methods and examination procedures currently being utilised for investigations on Lac Seul are contrasted with ones used earlier. The efficiency and effectiveness of past and present methods is evaluated.