M.A. Theses: Eric Simons, 2017


Archaeologists and Indigenous Traditional Knowledge in British Columbia



Archaeologists who study the past histories and lifeways of Indigenous cultures have long used Indigenous traditional knowledge as a source of historical information. Initially, archaeologists primarily accessed traditional knowledge second-hand, attempting to extract historical data from ethnographic sources. However, as archaeologists increasingly work with (and sometimes for) Indigenous communities, they have the opportunity to access traditional knowledge directly. Traditional knowledge is a powerful resource for archaeology, but accessing it is attended by significant socio-political issues and integrating it with archaeology’s interpretive frameworks can present epistemological challenges.

This thesis examines the methodological, social, and epistemological implications of archaeologists’ engagement with traditional knowledge in British Columbia, Canada, where changes at both a disciplinary and broader societal level indicate that archaeologists will increasingly need to work with traditional knowledge (and knowledge-holders). Through a series of in-depth interviews with practicing archaeologists from around the province, I explore how personal histories, professional circumstances, social contexts, and theoretical frameworks affect how traditional knowledge is used in British Columbian archaeology. I compare the ideas and concerns of interview respondents with those expressed in the global literature, and conclude by highlighting four emergent interview themes: 1) the importance of developing regionally-specific approaches to working with traditional knowledge 2) the value of traditional knowledge for illuminating more “ephemeral” aspects of the past; 3) the significance of long-term relationships between archaeologists and individual First Nations communities; and 4) the tension between studying Indigenous epistemologies and incorporating them into archaeological interpretations.


Keywords:     Indigenous traditional knowledge; British Columbia Archaeology; Epistemology; Oral History; Indigenous Heritage; Intellectual Property