INTRODUCTION by Bev Nicholson

Historical Background

The Canadian Archaeological Association (CAA/AAC) has attempted for a number of years to formulate a position regarding the relationship between archaeologists and Aboriginal peoples within Canada. This has been pursued through special symposia, forums, and paper sessions at the annual CAA/AAC meetings. There has also been considerable contact and communication between individual archaeologists and Aboriginal groups who have worked together on archaeological excavations and planning projects. In many cases, archaeologists have been directly employed by Aboriginal organizations and bands as consultants, educators, and coordinators/supervisors of projects administered by Aboriginal people.

Despite these examples of cooperative working relationships, there remained many differences in perspectives held by members of the Aboriginal and archaeological communities, which have caused misunderstandings and confrontation. It was recognized during discussions held by the new CAA/AAC Executive after the 25th annual meeting in London, Ontario, that the professional archaeological community had not adequately appreciated the interests and role of Aboriginal people in the interpretation and stewardship of their archaeological record.

As a result, the Aboriginal Heritage Committee (AHC) was created in 1992 with a specific mandate aimed at developing an accord between First Peoples and archaeologists. Funding for this initiative was received from the Department of Communications in the form of a contribution grant. The CAA/AAC agreed to contribute money for travel expenses and office/secretarial support expenses. Members were appointed to the AHC to represent the major geographic regions of Canada. These people in turn organized working committees that initiated consultations on a regional level. Summaries of the regional consultations were presented to the AHC at bi-annual committee meetings, in an on-going process of review and discussion at the national and regional levels.

The AHC was comprised of the following members:


Bev Nicholson Eldon Yellowhorn Bjorn Simonsen Debbie Webster (replaced by Doug Stenton) Sandra Zacharias Brian Scribe Patricia Allen Ralph T. Pastore Gary Baikie Ron Williamson David Denton,Tommy Weetaluktuk Co-Chair Co-Chair Secretary to the Committee NWT B.C./Yukon Forest/Prairie Maritimes Newfoundland/Labrador Labrador Inuit Ontario Quebec


Ex officio members of the AHC were:

Elizabeth Snow, Access to Archaeology Program
Jane Kelley and David Pokotylo, CAA/AAC Presidents 1992-1995


The mandate of the Committee, as defined by the CAA/AAC Executive, and reviewed at its first meeting on November 12, 1992 in Calgary, was:

  1. To develop, through extensive consultation with the Aboriginal and archaeological communities, a draft Statement of Principles for ethical archaeological practice and minimum standards for intercommunity communication.
  2. To examine policies and concepts to assist all levels of government (including Aboriginal governments) to realize consensual management of Aboriginal heritage features.
  3. To encourage direct involvement of Aboriginal people, through active recruitment programs, in professional archaeology.

The AHC's timetable stipulated that a draft document would be presented to the general membership at the 1994 CAA/AAC annual meeting in Edmonton. This would be followed by the presentation of a revised Statement of Principles at the 1995 annual meeting in Kelowna, and its distribution to the membership with a ballot for acceptance in 1996. The AHC would then be formally dissolved.

Chronological Sequence of Meetings

  • October 26, 1992 - A formal proposal requesting funding through the Access to Archaeology program was submitted to the Department of Communications by the CAA/AAC.
  • November 12, 1992 - The first meeting of the AHC was held in Calgary. There was an extended discussion by the CAA/AAC Executive of the AHC mandate and it was decided to establish regional working committees to solicit opinions and comments from Aboriginal people and practising archaeologists.


  • February 27, 1993 - In Winnipeg, the second meeting of the AHC was held. It was recognized during discussions that a national accord was not feasible, and that the emphasis should be placed on development of local protocols which were in general agreement with a Statement of Principles which would be developed. Funding in the form of an Access to Archaeology grant totalling $109,500 was confirmed by Elizabeth Snow, Director of Archaeological Resource Management. It was decided to invite delegates from all national Aboriginal organizations to the 1993 CAA/AAC annual meeting in Montreal for an open forum.


  • May 5-7, 1993 - In Montreal, the AHC approved the initial allocation of funds to the regional working committees and the national committee. The total funds were to be paid in yearly instalments, ending in the fiscal year 1995/1996, and were to be administered by Bjorn Simonsen. The mandate was also reviewed, with the term CAA/AAC Statement of Principles adopted as the title of the document to be produced.


  • An open forum was held during the CAA/AAC annual meeting to seek initial comments on archaeology and Aboriginal heritage. A high degree of consensus was apparent. Following the open forum, eleven points were developed by the AHC for discussion. These were:


    • 1. ownership of archaeological sites and cultural heritage;
      2. ownership of information;
      3. the maintenance of privacy for sacred sites and their protection;
      4. interpretations of the past, including school curriculum development;
      5. the sharing of information;
      6. the definition of archaeological site vs. traditional cultural or sacred site;
      7. archaeological training and education for First Peoples;
      8. protocol for consultation and communication with First Peoples for archaeological permits - the importance of elders;
      9. direct involvement with Aboriginal communities as part of the training of professional archaeologists;
      10. archaeological resource management; and
      11. treatment of burials.



  • January, 1994 - With the establishment of Nunavut, the Northwest Territories regional working committee was dissolved.


  • February 19, 1994 - In Winnipeg, the AHC met and reviewed comments received at the Montreal forum as well as written and oral submissions to members of the national AHC. A document entitled Draft Guidelines for Ethical Conduct Pertaining to Aboriginal Heritage Research and Communication was prepared for submission to the CAA/AAC membership at the annual meeting in Edmonton.


  • May 3-8, 1994 - In Edmonton, the Draft Guidelines were presented in an open forum at the CAA/AAC's annual meeting for comment and discussion by the membership. Concerns were expressed by several members of the professional consulting community and by members of various government regulatory bodies. Subsequently, the AHC met and decided to issue a call for written submissions from the membership and to take the expressed concerns of the membership and Aboriginal people back to the regional working committees for review.


  • February 18-19, 1995 - In Toronto, the AHC met to review the written submissions and the comments from the regional working committees. After a thorough discussion and review, a revised Statement of Principles was prepared, which was recommended for acceptance to the general membership at the CAA/AAC's annual meeting in Kelowna on May 6, 1995. While some reservations were expressed, there was no overt opposition to the new Statement of Principles as presented.


The final Statement of Principals has been prepared taking into consideration these reservations and comments. While there have been some strong differences of opinion on the scope of the guidelines, and the precise role which they should play in regulating archaeological research and practice, it was possible to obtain a broad consensus regarding several major issues governing the relationships of professional archaeologists with Aboriginal people across Canada. As the discussions progressed, it readily became apparent that the different regions and jurisdictions of the country each had their own priorities and specific concerns.

The major areas of consensus include the following:


  • 1. Practising archaeologists should welcome and encourage a greater role for Aboriginal people in the planning and implementation of their research.

    2. It is important to establish local protocols with Aboriginal people in each area of the country, which are mutually agreed upon and which will serve to provide a common ground of expectation for archaeologists and Aboriginal people alike.

    3. In all cases, respect must be the underlying principle which characterizes the relationship between traditional values of First Peoples and the research goals of practising archaeologists.


This document presents the reports of the various regional working committees, followed by a Summary and Conclusions and the final Statement of Principles for Ethical Conduct Pertaining to Aboriginal Peoples.