Dana Lepofsky

Distinguished Professor

Areas of interest

I am interested in the social and ecological impacts of past human interactions with their environment. I work primarily in the Northwest Coast, in the traditional territories of and in collaboration with, several First Nations. I incorporate diverse technical and methodological approaches in my research, including interviews with knowledge holders, ethnohistoric research, geomorphology, archaeological survey and excavation, paleoethnobotany, and paleoecology. My recognition of the value of different disciplines and kinds of knowledge has led me to believe strongly in multi-disciplinary and collaborative research. My research program has been strengthened considerably by my association with other archaeologists, paleo- and neo-ecologists, geomorphologists, and experts in First Nations traditional knowledge.


  • BA (University of Michigan)
  • MA (University of British Columbia)
  • PhD (University of California, Berkeley)


Dana Lepofsky is a professor in the Department of Archaeology, at Simon Fraser University. She conducts archaeological and ethnoecological research that spans disciplines and communities and that situates the knowledge and experiences of the past in current social and ecological contexts. She believes strongly that studying archaeology is a privilege and that this privilege is squandered if we do not fully embrace the degree to which the practice of archaeology is intertwined with current social issues.

Dana’s brand of archaeology involves working with and learning from Indigenous communities of the Pacific Northwest to document how their past interactions with their lands and seas are recorded in memory, language, and the ecological, paleoecological, and archaeological records.  Her teams seek to educate broadly about these interactions and to apply this knowledge to current social-ecological issues.  Her current work largely centres around cultural keystone species and ecosystems (Pacific herring http://www.pacificherring.org and clams http://www.clamgarden.com) and cultural keystone places (Húy̓at www.hauyat.ca and Laxgalts’ap). She is also enthusiastic about bringing together settler and Indigenous populations to promote Indigenous heritage conservation (www.lasquetiarc.ca).

These interests have led me to be one of the coordinators of the Herring School (www.Pacificherring.org) and the Clam Garden Network (www.clamgarden.com).  These are collectives of people from Indigenous and academic communities, and a variety of government and non-governmental organizations who are passionate about two of the cultural keystone species (CKS) of Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest: Pacific herring and clams.  We recognize that such CKS have always played a central role in food security and food sovereignty, and that the ability to sustainably harvest and eat these foods is linked to a range of issues including cultural identity, governance, and emotional and physical health.

Our entry point into the social-ecological study of clams, specifically, was through interest in one of the clam management features created by coastal Indigenous people from Alaska to Washington state.  These features, locally known as clam gardens, consist of rock-walled terraces built in the intertidal to increase clam production through habitat enhancement and expansion.  Combined with other ways of managing clams, clam gardens, ensured that clams were a staple food for coastal communities for millennia.

The “School” and the “Network” encompass a range of projects, all of which are grounded in and motivated by the needs and interests of today’s coastal communities.  Many students have contributed to these projects (e.g., Alisha GauvreauGinevra Toniello, Travis Crowell). All blend perspectives from the past and present, Indigenous and western, and global and local to get at current social-ecological issues, including culturally and ecological appropriate resource management.   A fundamental component of the projects is on-going communication and discussions among researchers and community members; such communication takes place in casual conversations, community presentations, newsletters, and conferences.

At the landscape level, I am so fortunate to work with the Heiltsuk and Gitga’ata First Nations in two of their cultural keystone places (CKP): Húy̓at and Laxgalts’ap, respectively. Elders in both communities grew up in Húy̓at and Laxgalts’ap and remember speaking their language, gathering foods in the traditional way, and living the ways of their traditions.  Both CKP are imbued with history and meaning as reflected in the oral traditions, memories, rock art, place names, archaeological sites (e.g., culturally modified trees, clam gardens and fish traps, intertidal root gardens, berry gardens, and historic and more ancient settlements).  With Dr. Nancy Turner (University of Victoria), Jennifer Carpenter (Heiltsuk First Nation), and Spencer Greening (Gitga’ata First Nation and SFU), we are documenting the eco-cultural history of these places as represented in peoples’ stories, songs, language, place names, and in the ethnoecological and archaeological records.  PhD student Julia Jackley is conducting archaeological and ethnoecological work in Huyat; PhD student, Spencer Greening is studying the connections among his people, place, and language at Laxgalts’ap; post-doctoral fellow Dr. Bryn Letham is documenting the complex sea level history of Laxgalts’ap as well as the early Holocene archaeological component of the watershed.

Our goal in these landscape level projects, like with the CKP projects, is to bring together multiple voices to tell about the importance of these places.  To this end, Mark Wunsch of Greencoast Media (https://greencoastmedia.ca/ ) and I produced an interactive website about Húy̓at  “Húy̓at: Our Voices our Land”  www.hauyat.ca .  Based on more than eight years of research, the website documents 6000 years of Heiltsuk connections to Húy̓at. A large touch screen with the site has been placed in the Heiltsuk Community School in Bella Bella, and we have a small exhibit on the website at the Bill Reid Center at SFU.  We are in the midst of gathering data and footage for the Laxgalts’ap website.



This instructor is currently not teaching any courses.