Field School Experience Par Excellence
Anthropology graduate oversees work on a significant archaeological site near Thunder Bay
by Erin Collins and Frances Harding
Promoting Aboriginal Research
Lakehead has created a new two-year contract (full-time) position aimed at encouraging and advancing Aboriginal research.
The Aboriginal Research Facilitator will be working collaboratively with researchers and Aboriginal community partners to identify and plan community-based research capacity-building initiatives.
According to Bev Sabourin, Vice-Provost (Aboriginal Initiatives), the Facilitator will be developing Aboriginal research guidelines for Lakehead U in collaboration with the University's Research Ethics Board and Aboriginal Management Council.
"We are expecting the Facilitator to promote the value of pure and applied research in meeting the challenges faced by the Aboriginal communities," she adds.
The Mackenzie Site is located just 20 km northeast of Thunder Bay near where the water of the MacKenzie River flows under the TransCanada Highway on its way to Lake Superior. It and several other sites of similar age were identified last year during preliminary work for construction of a four-lane highway between Thunder Bay and Nipigon.
In May 2010, Western Heritage Services Inc., a Saskatoon-based cultural resource management company, began excavating throughout the summer and early fall, with David Norris serving as project archaeologist. To date, thousands of artifacts have been found, including over 100 projectile points plus other tools - many of which are made of taconite, an iron-rich rock found in a formation that extends from northern Minnesota to the Thunder Bay area.
The Mackenzie Site will be completely excavated, in accordance with guidelines set out by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, before construction proceeds.
Through his employment with Western Heritage, Norris says he has been able to "develop new techniques for testing archaeological sites, present papers at conferences, and disseminate the information that we have acquired during the course of our work." There were 30 employees working at the Mackenzie Site this summer, including two new Lakehead University graduate students who have developed thesis topics relating to the site − Christine Shultis in Geology and Samantha Markham in Environmental Studies: Northern Environments and Cultures (NECU).
"We know that this site was once the shoreline of Lake Minong, a huge super lake that predated Lake Superior," says Norris. "I like to think this was a good place for the Paleo-Indians to be - fishing in the nearby rivers and perhaps trading with people from other places around the Lake. This year we had a long, hot summer, but up here on the dig there was always a cool breeze coming off the Lake."
Dave Norris and Debra Babcock survey the day's findings.
Breana McCulloch, an anthropology graduate of the University of Alberta, works with Mike Blakely, a volunteer worker from the Red Rock Indian Band.
"For me, such projects are important because Lakehead students and faculty will be in a position to help maximize research and education about the ancient past. Our students are also getting a wealth of practical archaeological experience in an environmental assessment field to supplement their academic training.
"Having the artifacts stored at Lakehead University - a publicly funded institution that is a 30-minute drive from the site - means the collection will be readily accessible to all scholars interested in Aboriginal heritage."
Arlene Lahti (HBSc'00, MSc'03) likes doing paperwork in the lab as well as digging in the field
"I loved it," says Lahti. "I spent about three-quarters of my time digging and the rest of the time in the lab organizing the field data. I think this project has been wonderful for the crew. It is great for Lakehead students looking for field school experience and really wonderful for the City of Thunder Bay!"
Lesley Kingsmill, Dave Finch, and Doug Yahn worked as field supervisors while NECU graduate students Andrew Lints and Jennifer Surette served as field and lab workers. "For the most part, everyone was excited to dig and to find that next interesting artifact," says Lesley Kingsmill. "You never knew what you were going to find, no matter how much experience you had. That's what makes archaeology fun."