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Archaeology conference builds hope

Courtesy Karonhianóron Dallas Canady-Binette

Archaeology is a field that often pushes Indigenous people out, increasing barriers to justice and finding out the real history of colonization. But at the annual Canadian Archaeological Association (CAA) conference this May, Kanien’kehá:ka archaeologists Karonhianóron Dallas Canady-Binette and Kelly Marquis were left impressed by the work being done to prioritize Indigenous perspectives. 

“I hadn’t seen so many Indigenous archaeologists in one space before, so that was really nice,” said Canady-Binette, who is from Kanesatake.  

The 56th annual conference took place in Saskatoon and focused on the theme “Bridging Time, Building Trust, Bringing Truth.” Workshops included topics like “Ways forward for archaeology and Indigenous sovereignty,” “Supporting Well-Being in Indigenous Archaeology: Sharing and Implementing Indigenous Values and Practice,” and “Chipping Away at Colonialism in Archaeology: Consent & Collaboration.”  

“It was really inspiring. It’s really interesting to see how Indigenous archaeologists are using Indigenous knowledge to conduct fieldwork and bring it to every aspect of archaeology,” said Marquis, who attended in her capacity as an archeology consultant at the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK). “There was a certain amount of respect and appreciation I felt throughout the whole thing amongst Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants, I felt that everyone was open to learning and to working together.” 

For Canady-Binette, the conference was especially useful to inform his work with the Kanien’kehá:ka Kahnistensera (Mohawk Mothers), with whom he has worked as a cultural monitor and generally assists them in their ongoing demands for thorough archaeological examination of the former Royal Victoria Hospital at McGill University.  

He said the CAA’s working group on unmarked graves has been useful throughout his work, and that he was pleased to know the Mohawk Mothers’ case had made waves throughout the Canadian archaeological community.  

“A lot of people from a variety of institutions and universities were aware of the Mothers, and it was really reaffirming to hear from other professionals that it’s absolutely not ethical what’s happening with the Mothers,” he said. “It gave me a renewed sense of determination to make something better come out of all of this.” 

Marquis said that the conference left her feeling cautiously optimistic about the future of archaeology in Turtle Island. She said the conference was focused on Indigenous perspectives down to the bison skull logo, which was created by Chris Chipak of Red Pheasant First Nation. 

“They even gave us bison jerky when we registered. That act of gift-giving is really important to us as people,” she said.  

Canady-Binette said a highlight of the conference was a plenary speech by fellow Kanehsata’kehró:non Kimberly Murray, who currently works as the independent special interlocutor for missing children and unmarked graves and burial sites associated with Indian Residential Schools. 

Murray spoke about how legislative changes are necessary to bring about justice when searching for unmarked graves. 

“I thought her speech was very powerful, she was speaking to how provincial and federal laws don’t address the enforced disappearance of Indigenous children, not just from residential schools but also broadly speaking,” he said.  

Both Marquis and Canady-Binette said that the conference also made them reflect on the difficulties of working as Indigenous archaeologists in Quebec, where lack of cooperation from the provincial government and public institutions often hinders progress. 

“It was kind of shocking to come from Quebec to Saskatchewan and see a lot of Indigenous-led or Indigenous-involved projects that seemed to be going pretty well, and then come back here,” he said. “It doesn’t deter me from trying to make better archaeology in Quebec, but it’s obvious the current framework isn’t working.” 

Canady-Binette said that he’s confident that the Indigenous archaeologists he met at the conference can pave the way to that better future. 

“There’s nothing in my mind that would make it impossible to change the way our archaeology is being done currently,” he said. “I think it’s absolutely within our reach to create archaeology that’s useful for Mohawk people, and useful for understanding our history and our ways.” 

evedcable@gmail.com 

This article was originally published in print on May 24 in issue 33.21 of The Eastern Door.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.

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Eve is a reporter with the Eastern Door. She has also covered harm reduction and social justice issues for the Montreal Gazette, The Breach, Filter Magazine, and more.