Student News

Indigenous Archaeology: Indigenous perspectives are integral to Heritage Resource Management work

April 15, 2020

While Indigenous archaeology seeks to optimize First Nations authority over the protection, preservation and management of their ancestral places and belongings, almost all heritage resource management work in Canada–to be done ethically–must be inclusive of aboriginal peoples’ values and perspectives.

Whether it’s working with consultants, knowledge keepers or Indigenous archaeologists, one emerging aim of HRM work is to recognize and carry forward Indigenous values embedded in sites and objects into heritage management that moves beyond colonial perspectives. Indigenous knowledge and values permeate its research goals, and its practitioners–both indigenous and non-indigenous–work to make archaeological practices more relevant and beneficial to First Nations communities.

The release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report in 2015 has boosted awareness of the field of Indigenous archaeology; there’s been substantial growth in the number of archaeologists specializing in Indigenous collaborations. MA-HRM candidate Leslie LeBourdais has been eager to bring forward changes that will resonate within her community, particularly in relation to the implementation of the 2006 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and BC’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, adopted last year.

“95% of what we do in the heritage industry has to do with Indigenous cultural heritage,” says LeBourdais. “They’re the underlying fabric of heritage management.” From initial project planning to final reporting, the emerging principle is ‘nothing about us without us.’ According to LeBourdais, “we’re advancing the work of our people, who from the beginning of contact realized that colonial impositions are not welcome and that paternalistic unilateral decision making by the Crown isn’t useful.”

Growing up on a ranch as a member of the Pelltiq’t te Secwépemc Nation with dreams of becoming a veterinarian, LeBourdais’s interests quickly morphed into a fascination with archaeology after a summer working at The Secwépemc Museum and Heritage Park. While employed through her band as a field technician, she was exposed to a lot of different consultants within the HRM industry, sparking an interest that led to her current role as Assistant Manager of Culture and Heritage of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Natural Resources Department.

“I’m hoping that attitudes are changing and that there’s a recognition of First Nations jurisdiction to manage and care for and promote our own cultural heritage,” she says.  “We have a vested interest in protecting it and passing it on for our next generation.” While many Indigenous archaeologists continue to collaborate with non-Indigenous colleagues and allies, says HRM Program Director Dr. John Welch, all legitimate leadership and goal setting within this dynamic field is from Indigenous representatives. “Indigenous practitioners are defining the present and future of what’s been called Indigenous archaeology. Those efforts are now proactive. We are past the point of reactive reform in many world regions, and welcoming radical change lead by Indigenous professionals and community representatives.”

With UNDRIP, the 2019 BC Act, and the overall movement of First Nations to reclaim control over their heritage, LeBourdais is intent on identifying how Secwépemc people define cultural landscapes, and how they can utilize this information to implement effective heritage management regimes in accordance with their traditional laws. “I have a really good team to bounce ideas off of,” says LeBourdais, whose thesis research is looking at the state of law and policy regarding HRM within Secwepemcúĺecw and resurrecting Secwépemc law. “That’s my niche and my traditional territory.”

LeBourdais’ goal is to enhance and expand these tools for direct use by her Nation. “I want to use this program to educate myself so that I can build some sort of method to help my Nation reclaim sovereign jurisdiction over the management of our heritage.” Noting that UNDRIP itself is vague and challenging to use in the field, LeBourdais is looking to the HRM program to gain the skills she needs to put landscape-scale planning and protection into place for her Nation–and perhaps others. “I’ve spent a lot of time researching other policies and right now there’s nothing,” she says, “and a master’s thesis is open to the world and others can use the methodology if they want.”

However, there are still tensions and a feeling of immobility. “We’re always up against a wall, or we’re confined by regulatory requirements, or we’re not able to enforce protection for our own cultural heritage based on the current policy and legislative frameworks,” she explains. “We’re trying to change that, but we’re just met with opposition.” For LeBourdais, this realization is the driving force behind her work to revitalize traditional laws and knowledge systems as foundations for community empowerment. Her thesis will be a tool to help Secwépemc move beyond the constraints of the current regulatory system, gain recognition of their rights and further reconciliation work in the heritage resource management field with the support of UNDRIP and DRIPA.

The impact of the coursework on how LeBourdais practices heritage management has been almost immediate. “I’ve learned a lot in a very short period of time,” she says. “It gives me more confidence working in the field and helps me communicate with those policy makers and legislators.” It also gives the opportunity to educate those within her own team on complex issues in ethics, policy, legislation, and business. As a project manager, she says, the business course has given her vital skills to be more confident and competent in her job.

“The courses are really valuable and I’m enjoying them,” says LeBourdais. She credits the ethics course for building a strong awareness of what Indigenous archaeology is for all the students. “But I’m the only Indigenous person in the program right now,” says LeBourdais, “so for me to be representative is really difficult.”

Since its inaugural cohort in 2016, SFU’s Heritage Resource Management program has adapted to work with and support Indigenous archaeology through active recruitment of Indigenous students and integration of indigenous perspectives in the coursework. There’s been other initiatives too, like approaching SFU’s Indigenous landowners regarding an HRM program statement of acknowledgement and invitation to relationship, as well as a partnership with the Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council and Teck Highland Valley Copper Operations for an internship program that is directing HRM MA candidate research addressing concerns identified at the Tribal Council level.

“Because the vast majority of archaeology in North America affects Indigenous people’s places and belongings–and then results in narratives regarding Indigenous lives–it is essential to facilitate control by Indigenous governmental and cultural representatives at all junctures in the HRM process,” explains Dr. Welch.

Welch’s outlook for the future of indigenous archaeology, and the way the program will evolve, is for justice via proportionality. “I would like to see Indigenous participation and leadership in archaeology and our HRM program in proportion to the levels at which archaeology and HRM affect Indigenous people, families, and collectives,” he says. “In my view, this means significant growth and diversification not only in Indigenous archaeology, but in archaeology and HRM in general.”

Being a remote program offered through distance education, the HRM master’s is useful for archaeologists with roots elsewhere who are focused on acquiring skills that help them excel in their professional lives. “There’s probably a lot of people that want to move to the next level but they don’t know that this program is available,” says LeBourdais.

A professional master’s delivered online through Simon Fraser’s Department of Archaeology, the Heritage Resource Management program is currently accepting applications for its Fall cohort until May 31, 2020. The graduate program is open to individuals with a Bachelor’s degree and a minimum of one year work experience in heritage resource management.