Materializing Indigenous Histories

The Indigenous/Science team was awarded a SSHRC Partnership Development Grant in 2021, which allows us to explore what material belongings can tell us about Indigenous histories.

The project connects four Indigenous partners (xʷməθkʷəy̓əm [Musqueam], Metlakatla, Sts'ailes, Métis Nation of Alberta) 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 persists even when Indigenous historical knowledge is considerably richer than what can be learned from extant incomplete material evidence. This is the core challenge to be addressed in this project: 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 the four Indigenous communities 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 University, 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. 

This structure is built around four Research Nodes that focus on analysis of materiality, and three Connecting Nodes that explore larger foundational themes. Detail on each of these is available through the menu tabs on this page. Our work is directed by a series of questions posed by Indigenous communities to univerity lab-based researchers. These are:

  • Question 1. xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) to PCIGR-LOA (UBC): From where did our ancient ancestors procure exotic/foreign lithic resources? 
  • Question 2. Sts’ailes to PCIGR-LOA (UBC): From where did our ancient ancestors collect lithic resources within our territory?
  • Question 3. Metlakatla to LOA ADαPT(UBC)-Leicester Light Isotope Laboratory: What is the archaeological evidence of resource management of fish in our territory?
  • Question 4. Métis Nation of Alberta to Rupertsland Centre for Métis Research-Institute of Prairie and Indigenous Archaeology (UAlberta): How can the compilation and management of geospatial and geophysical archaeology data demonstrate the Métis presence throughout the Métis homeland?

In addition to answering these four questions, the goal of this project is to document and assess equitable partnership practices Indigenous communities, researchers and universities on three dimensions: repository practices, data sharing and data sovereignty, and structural conditions for knowledge co-productionThus, our ambition is to 1) attempt to answer these questions and, 2) consider the best practices of equitable partnerships between Indigenous communities and universities as we do so. We are structured around the seven nodes as a result:

NodeResearch Question and Research IssueLaboratories/MethodsTeam Leads
xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) to PCIGR-LOA (UBC)Sourcing obsidian/exotic tradePCIGR: SS-LA-ICP-MS/XRF/Raman spectroscopy/XRD – geochemical characteristics and multi-proxy lithic sourcingAviva Rathbone (Musqueam); Rhy McMillan (VUB/PGIGR); Dominique Weis (UBC/PCIGR)
Sts’ailes to PCIGR-LOA (UBC)Sourcing fine-grained lithics/resource management within territoryPCIGR: SS-LA-ICP-MS/XRF/Raman spectroscopy/XRD – geochemical characteristics and multi-proxy lithic sourcingMorgan Richie (Sts’ailes/UBC); Rhy McMillan (VUB/PGIGR); Dominique Weis (UBC/PCIGR)
Metlakatla to LOA  ADαPT(UBC)-Leicester Light Isotope LaboratorySourcing fish/resource management within/beyond territory

LOA ADαPT: Zooms - proteomics species identification

LOA ADαPT: PCA DNA – genotypic mapping

Leicester: Light Isotope Mass Spectrometry – fish diet, marine ecosystem dynamics

PGIGR: SS-LA-ICP-MS/XRF – geochemical signatures and sourcing

Stephanie Huddlestan (Metlakatla); Camilla Speller (UBC); Eric Guiry (Leicester)
Métis Nation of Alberta to Rupertsland Centre for Métis Research-Institute of Prairie and Indigenous Archaeology (UAlberta):Material expressions of identity in space

IPIA: GIS – material taxonomy mapping

IPIA: remote sensing – non-destructive mapping material patterns at archaeological sites.

Natalie Kermoal (Rupertsland/UAlberta); Kisha Supernant (IPIA/UAlberta)
ReposiitoryRepository obligations and accessArchival and collections platforms – short- and long-term improved repository practicesSue Rowley (UBC)
Data Managment and SovereigntyInfrastructural challenges to knowledge co-productionData-sharing and management platforms – improved capacity for knowledge co-productionNeha Gupta (UBC); Kisha Supernant (Métis/IPIA/ UAlberta)
Reflections and EvidencePhilosophical evlauations of knowledge co-productionEvaluation of structural challenges to partnership ambitions – improved partnership and knowledge co-productionAlison Wylie (UBC); Sue Rowley (UBC)


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