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Materializing Indigenous Histories

The I/S team was awarded a SSHRC Partnership Development Grant in 2021 to focus on the exploration of material belongings as a means of exploring Indigneous history. The project connects four Indigneous partners (Musqueam, Metlakatla, Sts'ailes, Métis) with materials analysis researchers from UBC and the University of Alberta to address Indigenous-led research questions through the exploration of materials held in repositories. 

The study of material things and their relations to land- and seascapes is foundational to an archaeological understanding of the past and a key aspect of the description of Indigenous history within non-Indigenous domains. Indigenous communities in Canada have detailed knowledge of their pasts framed in Indigenous scholarship, legal systems, and governance. However, in many contexts (e.g. academia, jurisprudence, and government) patterns in material evidence from scientific enquiry carry considerable weight, often superseding Indigenous-held knowledge. This structural inequality contradicts Canada’s endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and exists even when extant material evidence is incomplete, inaccurate, or inadequate. This is the core challenge to be addressed in this proposal: how can we evaluate and improve the analysis of patterns in materiality from archaeological contexts to better serve Indigenous and non-Indigenous use of such data for a more accurate understanding of history.

We approach this effort through an emerging partnership network of four Indigenous communities (xʷməθkʷəy̓əm [Musqueam], Sts’ailes, Metlakatla, and Métis) and four university labs (UBC’s Pacific
Centre for Isotopic and Geochemical Research [PCIGR] and Laboratory of Archaeology [LOA], the light isotope facility at Leicester, and UAlberta’s Institute for Prairie and Indigenous Archaeology
[IPIA]). Our approach is to collectively pursue questions posed by the Indigenous partners by drawing on archaeological materials from heritage repositories to which we will apply advanced geochemical and biomolecular assessments and spatial analyses.