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WLFN-owned company brings a decolonial lens to archeology: ‘We need Indigenous knowledge’



Demetrius George working on site at the Cariboo Memorial Hospital project. Photo by Dionne Phillips

On a recent archeological exploration for the Cariboo Memorial Hospital project in Williams Lake, Demetrius George discovered a small, ancient rock tool in the dirt. 

The fine-grained volcanic artifact is very sharp, he explains, but doesn’t seem to be made for scraping deer hide — rather, for smaller jobs, such as cutting string. 

“I’ve been trying to find a tool for three years now,” he says with a smile. 

George is a junior archeological field technician with the Indigenous-owned company Sugar Cane Archeology. Through his work, the member of Esk’etemc First Nation explores Secwépemc lands and beyond — uncovering village sites, pithouses, tools and other amazing glimpses into the past in order to illuminate and preserve this important history. 

In a historically colonial field, SCA is changing the landscape for future archaeologists, and demonstrating a new way archeology can be done on Indigenous lands. 

“Archaeology the way it’s done right now is so rooted in colonialism, first of all, but also in western science. In order to have the whole picture, we need Indigenous knowledge,” says Brittany Cleminson, an archaeologist and manager of SCA.

“The people on the land are local, right? They’re from the region. This is their community. This is their backyard. Who should be doing that work but them?”

In September, SCA’s impact was recognized as they became the recipient of the Community-Owned Business of the Year — one entity award through the BC Achievement Foundation.

“To us, archaeology is one of the ways forward to true reconciliation,” the company wrote in a statement about the award. “It could be economic reconciliation, social reconciliation, political reconciliation — people think it’s just about the past, but it’s about the community now and about the future of the community.”

The Sugar Cane Archaeology team accepting their Community-Owned Business of the Year award. Source: Sugar Cane Archaeology

SCA is wholly owned by the Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN). WLFN founded the company in 2016, with three crew members — now eight years later, they seasonally employ 25 to 30 crew members. 

George — who is just 21 — began working for SCA three years ago. 

According to George, archaeology runs in the family. His grandmother studied it in school and has been sharing her experience and learning with him over the years, hoping to teach him her trade. 

Each year, George says he finds himself learning more and more. He recalls his second year learning about culturally modified trees (CMTs) and attending a Resources Information Standards Committee (RISC) course. 

George notes that he has “stepped it up a bit” over time by learning to take field notes, write blogs, and measure house pits. It is through his passion, curiosity, and hard work that he has been able to grow in the field continually — noting that it has been nice that his bosses trust and support him. 

Cleminson details some exciting finds, including two previously unrecorded house pit village sites located west of Williams Lake. Between the two villages, 30 housepits were identified. 

According to the SCA Facebook page, a pithouse is a dwelling typically used by Indigenous people living in the Plateau region of “Canada,” which is composed of above-ground structures, including a standing roof. If only the in-ground pit is left, it is considered a house pit. 

The archaeologists have also found a “projectile point,” which tentatively dates back 8000 years ago, and mere feet away, they found another one dating back 250 years ago. This find shows “nearly 8000 years of continuous use and occupation of the North Shore of Williams Lake by Indigenous people,” says Cleminson.

Incorporating cultural practices

Being operated by the Williams Lake First Nations has had an important impact in Secwépemc lands, such as a recent project involving the former St. Joseph’s Mission where SCA has overseen ground scans of the site. The Mission was run by the church as a residential “school” from 1891 to 1981, and thousands of Indigenous children were forced to attend. 

Whitney Spearing, senior manager for title and rights and lead investigator on the St. Joseph’s Mission Investigation, spoke about the cultural steps taken by the company and contractors. 

“Before we started the investigation at all, the team who actually brings in the equipment went through ceremony, so they went to the sweat, as well as we all got a Sekani7 stick,” she says. 

The ceremony began with an opening of traditional song and prayer. The Sekani7 canes were brought in by Charlene Belleau, former Kúkwpi7 of the Esk’etemc First Nation. The Sekani7 canes are part of a ceremony including song and dance which showcases Secwépemc resiliency and the intention to keep moving forward. 

For George, the canes have an extra layer of importance, because he explains it’s key to be sober in their presence and he had completed sobriety treatment shortly before the project began. Being around his culture while on the job has kept him on that path.

Tobacco ties were hung on equipment such as their ground penetrating radar (GPR) technology which is being utilized by a contractor, and since they are on-site, their workers went through the same protocol. These protocols are ongoing, so if anyone new joins the project, they will have to go through the same processes. Each day, the team smudges when they are on the site, and the site is marked in the four directions with medicine bags.

Spearing explains how placing a small stick with a medicine pouch attached in the crew members’ vests allows “the children to be able to recognize that we’re there in a good way to try and help find them.”

George recalled having conversations with his grandfather about the Mission after beginning the investigation. He opened up and shared details from his history at the “school.” During these discussions, he discovered so much about his grandfather that he didn’t know, such as his old friends, the foods he disliked due to the “school” feeding them the same foods repeatedly, and how he played hockey to get out of “school.”

George says that they were looking for mounds that could contain possible remains during the investigation, so they surveyed everywhere. While the work was hard, George says he is hopeful for their findings, including trying to find his grandpa’s friends and to “try and give closure to everyone else’s family.”

Another crew from “Saskatchewan” had their own traditions and medicines, which was a way “to introduce themselves to the children and make sure that they know that they’re there to try and help and they’re there in a good way,” says Spearing.

Since the site is of importance to many communities, there have been multiple healing ceremonies for the different communities. Spearing adds that they have been there to “accommodate and honour whatever the community is asking for” and that their team is there to assist in any way needed. 

Changing the way archaeology is approached

Cleminson describes the company’s growth, along with the positivity it brings.

“One of the things that we’re most proud of with this growth has been our ability to take on local and regional projects that impact the community we live in.”

Cleminson notes wanting to educate people and create awareness to help them understand the work. The company’s growth allows for outreach as well. 

“We offer support with post-secondary, especially for Indigenous youth who are pursuing archaeology and anthropology, and if post-secondary’s not what’s feasible in their life at the time, we offer career support, professional development,” Cleminson says. 

Cleminson notes that they also work with the Elders in many different ways, “we also do a lot of traditional use information and data gathering, interviewing Elders, we go out on the land with the Elders.” 

She adds that they often make finds in the areas that the Elders point out with one instance of following the Elders’ directions and finding 16 new archaeological sites.

It’s a process of working through the traditional routes of archaeology while incorporating the oral histories of the Elders and community members. 

Cleminson says they are working to “take the indigenous knowledge of our community and our workers, but you know, make it work within the standard that we have to work in for Western society and regulatory reporting, so it’s finding kind of the intermingling of those two things.”

After many conversations over the years, SCA is now Williams Lake’s “prime archaeological services contractor” and has a “multi-assessment permit for the city,” says Cleminson. They are currently working on multiple projects throughout the city.

With this agreement with the city, George says they have had to turn work down and adds, “Now we definitely have a lot more work to do, and it’s been more fun to go out and work for them.” 

The growth has been rapid, with George saying it wasn’t as busy when he started just three years ago.

When discussing archaeology labs and museums to keep the findings with the people on traditional WLFN territory, George is hopeful. “I definitely feel like archaeology is going to change” and that it will become “bigger and bigger,” he says.

Cleminson explains that items found on the reserves are federal land, and there is no federal archaeological legislation in “Canada.” 

This means that SCA is “actually able to keep the artifacts that we identified, provided they were on federal land,” she says. 

Items found on provincial land have different requirements where “all artifacts have to be submitted to provincially approved repositories, museums, laboratories, etc.”

The WLFN administration building has a professional-grade laboratory installed.

“It’s installed to standard to meet all provincial requirements so that it can be certified. We’re in the process of finishing equipping it right now, but ultimately, we’re hoping to have it certified as an accredited repository within the next year or two.”

This means that all nations in and around WLFN would be able to use this lab instead of sending their finds to a farther community for lab requirements and artifact housing.

On the archaeology industry growing, George adds, “I hope it does, just, it’s super important that First Nations do it,” he says, noting that it’s the people who are “stepping up and realizing that we [have] to preserve our history.”

George has had a few opportunities to work in his home community, where he once had to revisit an old cache pit, but the map was so old that they were unable to find it. He adds that it’s nice to work out there, and it’s a fun experience.

While archaeology wasn’t on George’s radar a few years ago, he now has aspirations to keep going in the field. “That’s what my plan is in the future. I want to go to school, and then I want to run my archaeological business out on my reserve in Esket. That’s what I plan to do.”

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In photos: Indigenous children and Youth take the spotlight at VIFW 2023




Indigenous children modelled the fashion brand HSTRYMKRS, which shared spray paint designs that read “Young Matriarch” and “The Youth are Sacred.” Photo by Aaron Hemens

The future looked bright for the next generation at this year’s Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week (VIFW), as children and Youth showcased their talents in modelling and design.

The event took place at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre over four nights last week — each with a different theme. VIFW is an annual event that began in 2017 as a way to promote and celebrate Indigenous fashion, arts and culture.

The third night on Nov. 22 had a theme of Indigenous Futures. After a territorial welcome, the lights dimmed and music vibrated the walls of the venue as Indigenous Youth from the Girls Who LEAP (Lead to Empower and Act with Purpose) program walked in their power on the runway.

As part of a mentorship program with VIFW, each girl designed and created their own shawl to showcase — embodying their hopes, dreams, and respective cultures. Their work was paired with the work of Nisg̱a’a designer Kevin Gosnell Designs.

Girls Who LEAP is a non-profit in “Vancouver” that provides leadership opportunities for Youth in the Downtown Eastside and Grandview Woodlands communities – both of which have a high population of urban Indigenous People. Photo by Aaron Hemens

Partnering with Indigenous models from Supernaturals Modelling, the Youth smiled, held back tears, and waved to their friends in the audience. Family members cheered for their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

For Kailani, a Youth who participated in the LEAP program, being mentored to create a shawl for VIFW was a dream come true, and a way to honour her family and culture.

Kailani says she wanted to honour her name, which means sea and sky in Hawaiian, as the inspiration for her design. “I created a blue sun with red, yellow, orange and purple arrows mimicking the course of the sunset. The blue sun represents the meeting point of the sea and the sky,” says Kailani. Photo by Aaron Hemens

“I grew up seeing my aunt dance in her beautiful regalia,” said Kailani. 

“My aunt Rebecca influences me especially because many designs are based around powwow culture.”

Kailani’s aunt is Kwakiutł, Dzawada’enuxw and Skwxwú7mesh designer Rebecca Baker-Grenier, who also showcased her clothing designs during VIFW. Another aunt of Kailani’s, Himalkas Pam Baker, also showcased her fashions.

Girls Who LEAP models show off their shawls on the runway. Photo by Aaron Hemens

The founder and artistic director of VIFW, Joleen Mitton, was in the audience, dancing and cheering for the Youth and their creations. 

Her work in creating VIFW was recently featured in the short film Ancestral Threads, which premiered at HotDocs in 2023. 

The behind the scenes look at how VIFW began, and all of the work that goes into curating a show, and the people Mitton has brought along with her. 

The former international model, who is Cree, has deep roots in “Vancouver” mentoring Indigenous Youth. For Mitton, she credits her kokum for inspiring her to serve the community.

Joleen Mitton (front), the founder of VIFW, poses on the runway during the Girls Who LEAP finale. Photo by Aaron Hemens

Opening the show, Mitton wore a jumpsuit with the slogan “the future is Indigenous” on the back before changing looks later in the night.

“You’ve got to appreciate the outfit,” she said. “This was made by the Youth. They are our future.”

Angela Howe-Parrish of Choke Cherry Creek, who is Apsaalooke (Crow) and Amskapi Piikani (Blackfeet), shared her new Apsáalooke Collection, which featured vibrant colours, geometric patterns and Elk tooth prints. Photo by Aaron Hemens

Along with Girls Who LEAP, the Indigenous Futures night featured the works of Choke Cherry Creek, Alicia’s Designs, Two Smudge, Section 35, 4 Kinship, Jamie Gentry Designs and Himikalas Pamela Baker.

Owen Unruh, a Two-Spirit Cree model, dancer and content creator, in Choke Cherry Creek Designs. Photo by Aaron Hemens

During a showcase for the Heiltsuk-owned streetwear brand HSTRYMKRS, models wearing jerseys, cargos and statement-making jewelry by Copper Canoe Woman danced to hip hop music and hyped up the crowd as they walked the runway, prompting loud cheers.

Fashion Brand HSTRYMKRS shared spray paint designs that read “Young Matriarch” and “The Youth are the Future.” Photo by Aaron Hemens

The cheers became louder as a model wearing a graffiti-painted gown emblazoned with the words “The Youth are Sacred” and “The Youth are the Future” walked out with three children who wore shirts with the slogans “Youth Matriarch.” 

A model with HSTRYMKRS poses on the runway in front of cheerful audience members. Photo by Aaron Hemens

“How many more times am I going to cry tonight?” said the event’s host Kiefer Collison, after the showcase was over. “That was absolutely beautiful.”

A spectator raises their fist in the air in solidarity with HSTRYMKRS models. Photo by Aaron Hemens

The themes for the other nights of VIFW were the opening Red Dress Event, All My Relations and Spirit of the West Coast. 

“My people, you are so beautiful and so strong,” said Rueben George of Tsleil-Waututh Nation, who gave a territorial welcome with his children Cedar and Kayah.

“This is a celebration, because how we look is to the future.”

The show was opened by Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation (TWN) and his children Cedar and Kayah. “We’re taking it back,” says George. “This is a presentation of our future, of who we are.” Photo by Aaron Hemens

With files from Aaron Hemens and Cara McKenna

The post In photos: Indigenous children and Youth take the spotlight at VIFW 2023 appeared first on IndigiNews.

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SD67 career fair connects Indigenous students with professional mentors




From left: Whitney Cardenas, Chris Ingle and Jaden Sampson were at the career fair with PIB’s fire department. Photo by Athena Bonneau

During a career fair in “Penticton” last week, Indigenous secondary school students heard from 26 mentors working in different industries — giving the Youth an opportunity to learn about various professional pathways.

The event was the first-ever Indigenous Career Fair held by School District 67’s (SD67) Indigenous Parent Group, planned in collaboration with the district’s Indigenous Education Program and held at Princess Margaret Secondary School.

It aimed to bridge the gap between post-secondary aspirations and alternative career paths, and set Indigenous Youth up for success after high school.

The Youth learned about various industries from professionals including water technicians, Youth and family workers, teachers, artists and more. 

Along with covering the event as a journalist on Nov. 16, I also represented my industry as a mentor, talking to the Youth in Grades 8 to 12 about my career as a freelance storyteller contributing to IndigiNews and Global Okanagan. I shared with them what it means to me to tell these impactful stories as a member of Penticton Indian Band (PIB).

Another of the mentors, Whitney Cardenas, is also a member of PIB and works for the nation’s fire department. She told me that before she became a firefighter, attended a similar career fair to explore different job paths.

Now, she is eager to encourage the next generation of Indigenous Youth who are trying to decide which career path to choose.

“I’m pretty proud of myself to be named as one of the Indigenous role models, and I’m excited to talk to the Youth and tell them why I do what I do,” said Cardenas.

“I’m here to help encourage them to know that there are options out there and how easy it is to get into these careers and how they can make a living.”

Students at SD67’s Indigenous Career Fair at Princess Margaret Secondary School on Nov 16. Photo by Athena Bonneau

As a mother of two young children, Cardenas shared her passion for building a sense of community, emphasizing the importance of involving youth in trades for real-world experience. 

“I never saw myself in this position with the fire brigade but I love it. I feel it’s something that I’m going to continue doing for a long while,” said Cardenas.

Cardenas encouraged Youth who may be interested in the trades to “come as you are and experience it firsthand” — embodying the inclusive and supportive spirit at the heart of the Indigenous Career Fair.

Dustin Hyde, the District Principal of Indigenous Education and Equity for SD67, highlighted the importance of broad representation of Indigenous workers across different sectors at the event.

“There was a parent who said, ‘my daughter wants to study medicine’ and it would be wonderful if there was an Indigenous doctor here,” said Hyde, who is Métis.

“We plan to broaden our role models next year and the hope and the dream would be that we just continue to offer more opportunities.”

Christy Tiessen, a member of the Indigenous Parent Group and organizer of the Career Fair, said the group will continue to meet monthly to find different ways to encourage Indigenous youth to see themselves in different career paths aside from only the traditional university route.

“If one kid walked out of here tonight and says, ‘I know what I want to do, that’s what I’m going to do’ and now they have a passion to move forward — that’s the goal,” said Tiessen.

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For 18-year-old syilx basketball star, sports and mental health intersect




sk’ik’aycin Peter Waardenburg Jr., an 18-year-old syilx Youth from the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, pictured at Westbank First Nation’s (WFN) basketball court on Nov. 3. Photo by Aaron Hemens

Just down the road from where sk’ik’aycin Peter Waardenburg Jr. grew up is one of his favourite safe spaces — the Westbank First Nation’s (WFN) basketball court.

The sport is more than just a means of keeping active or staying connected with his community — it’s his go-to coping mechanism to help navigate whatever challenges may present themselves. 

So whenever he needs to clear his mind and ground himself, the 18-year-old will head to outdoor facility in syilx homelands and spend time shooting hoops. 

“Whenever I feel down or need to feel motivated, I’ll come out,” says Waardenburg Jr., who is a member of Lower Similkameen Indian Band. 

“It allows me to get away from whatever I need, to create a space for myself.”

Waardenburg Jr. was raised by a community of basketball players. His family started Syilx Basketball long before he was born — some of his earliest memories are of him watching his older brother Treyton, his older cousins and his dad play.

In addition to Treyton, his favourites included local Syilx Basketball league legends Jesse Vissia and Skye Terbasket, with his mom even gifting him a poster of the latter for Christmas one year.

“I always liked to watch and analyze more than I liked to play when I was younger. I was a little shy,” he recalled.

But Waardenburg Jr. was playing ball by the time he was five years old. Throughout his 13-year career, he’s generally played the point guard position, sometimes switching to shooting guard if needed. 

At one point, he also played competitive baseball, where his time as a pitcher taught him patience and how to keep himself calm.

“That helped me later on with basketball: being a point guard and calm on the floor, kind of leading,” he said.

Basketball has introduced him to a new world of different clubs, tournaments and communities throughout North America — he’s played with the Jr. Heat Boys Basketball Club, Okanagan Valley Elite, GW Hoops, the Similkameen Men’s team, and Syilx Basketball for both the Junior and regular All Native Basketball tournaments.

He’s also represented Team BC twice in the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) — first in 2017, where the team placed second, and this past spring, where he was the starting point guard for the team, who finished third.

In 2022, he was part of the Syilx Basketball team that won the All Native Youth Basketball Tournament, which also saw him earn the MVP award. He competed again in this year’s Junior All Native, where he was the top scorer and was named an all-star, helping his team place second.

“Basketball allowed me to stay connected, especially to culture. With the All Native and with the Junior All Native, it brings you towards different tribes and bands,” he said.

A special highlight in his career was when he played with his older brother and his younger brother on a Men’s Similkameen Basketball team that his dad coached. 

“When you’re surrounded by friends and family, and they’re playing basketball, it just makes you realize how much you’re loved,” he said.

This past August, Waardenburg Jr. was named as one of three syilx Okanagan recent high school graduates to receive a Syilx Siya Bursary Award from the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA), for demonstrating “a willingness to dream big for themselves, their Nation, their community, and/or their family.”

Applicants for the bursary award were tasked with writing about overcoming a difficult moment in their lives. In his application, he wrote about losing his cousins to mental health challenges and how sports — basketball in particular — helped him cope.

“I definitely believe sports help with mental health. I’ve seen it help me through the roughest times,” said Waardenburg Jr., who graduated from Mount Boucherie Secondary School.

He said while opening up about loss was difficult, he has worked through many of the emotions involved with the grieving process. 

“My two bros that I lost, they played a lot of basketball. I grew up playing with them,” he said.

Now, he is working his way through his first-year studies at Okanagan College’s business administration program. Waardenburg Jr. said he’s keen on promoting Indigenous sports more — he said he’d like to teach and coach other Indigenous Youth someday.

Speaking from his own experience, he encouraged those struggling with mental health to try and pick up a sport because you never know who you’ll meet that may help you down the road.

“It can also just make you realize that there’s more to life,” he said.

“Honestly, it could save someone.”

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