Eugene Louie

Bringing Tla’Amin tales to life

October 2, 2008

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By Marianne Meadahl

First Nations elder Eugene Louie sits on a perch of oceanfront land he grew up on near Powell River and reminisces about a pet bear cub he played with as a child.

On this very spot, SFU archaeologists worked this past summer to determine how life on the Tla’Amin reserve evolved uncovered bone fragments from a small bear paw.

Coincidence? Maybe. But it’s also indicative of how archaeology is verifying the oral histories that still exist in this Sunshine Coast region, the traditional home of the Tla’Amin people, stretching more than 6,000 square kilometers from the northern Sunshine Coast across Texada Island and including Denman and Hornby Islands.

This past summer was the beginning of a multi-year archaeology field school and heritage stewardship program. Jointly managed by the Tla’Amin First Nation and SFU archaeologists Dana Lepofsky and John Welch, it includes training and public outreach as well as research.

The partnership includes band councillors, local government officials and local youths, working together with SFU researchers and students.

The main excavation site is a look-out (or fighting house)—the first site of its kind to be excavated in B.C. Researchers have found evidence of village life—including underground houses and fish smokehouses—at the site overlooking Scuttle Bay (Kleh Kwa Num), where the Tla’Amin once hung cedar branches at low tide to attract spawning herring.

Band elders tell stories of watching attacking Haida boats fight the strong currents, allowing time to move to safety. "The site is really the whole bay, because we have everything from fish traps in the water to smokehouses and underground houses at various sites above it," says Lepofsky. "For archaeologists, this is an abundantly rich area to study."

Findings include shell middens, often associated with settlements or camps, stone flakes from tools, bone fragments (largely from herring), rocks or wooden posts that had been arranged into fish traps, culturally modified trees and petroglyphs—all with stories to tell.

For Louie, the dig is a way to verify certain facts about the Tla’Amin way of life. "Through projects like this, with bones being dug up, DNA testing should prove that these herring were resident stocks, which has been our story (in dealings with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans) all along," he says. "We rely on science, it is the best argument we have that verifies our oral history.
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