Contemporary Indigenous sites

Over the last few days, I have found myself looking back over previous posts and I realized I have not written many on sites based on an occupation by contemporary Indigenous people in Newfoundland and Labrador. In order to rectify this, I will start with a post about the numbers of archaeologically or ethnographically recorded Mi’kmaq, Innu & Inuit sites in the Province. I will not get into any detail about specific sites. To begin with, I will need to explain the difference between ethnographic and archaeological sites. This post is based on data taken from Site Record Forms (SRF) that are submitted by archaeologists to the Provincial Archaeology Office. SRFs record basic information about the site such as location, culture, age, etc. Each time an archaeologist finds a new site or revisits a known site they are required to complete and submit a SRF to the PAO.

Recording of ethnographic sites started in the 1990s during investigations for the Labrador Hydro Project when recent Indigenous sites (dated to post-1960) were found and the PAO wanted a way to keep track of them.

An artificial temporal boundary was drawn to distinguish between 20th century late historic and contemporary or ‘ethnographic’ sites. Any abandoned site, which contains remains that are about 50 years old, would fall in the ethnographic category. The term ethnographic suggests there is a potential for further interviews or research on those sites with their previous occupants (who may well still be alive) to learn more about aspects of the occupation of the site. Since their creation, ethnographic sites have also been recorded for other areas of the province (Labrador & Island – Indigenous & European) where recent cultural features were found but were not necessarily considered archaeological sites. As such, ethnographic sites do not have the same level of protection as an archaeological site.

However, we recognize there are issues with this system of recording. For example, by our ethnographic definition, your fireplace created while in the woods today would be an ethnographic site tomorrow. Would we record that? Probably not but in 30 or 40 years, we likely would. In 50 or 60 years, it would technically be an archaeological site that showed the previous land-use. Some archaeologists have questioned whether the PAO even needs to record ethnographic sites and it is something we have discussed in the office. If we record ethnographic sites, after 50 years should they become archaeological sites? Should all traces of land-use be recorded as archaeological? We know having two designations is not a perfect system but it is better than not tracking these contemporary sites at all and it has become standard practice/policy in the PAO over the last 20 years.

Most Mi’kmaq people in the Province live on the Island and most of the Innu and Inuit live in Labrador.  However, archaeologists have recorded Inuit sites on both the Island and mainland portions of the Province. From the archaeology sites database there are:

  • 33 known sites with Mi’kmaq components on the Island. Three of these are ethnographic sites and the remaining 30 are archaeological sites.
  • 595 known sites in Labrador with Innu components, 333 are ethnographic and 262 are archaeological.
  • 1032 known sites with Inuit components, just 32 are ethnographic and 992 are archaeological. There are also eight sites with Inuit components on the Island.

The following three maps show all known sites including single culture and multi-cultural sites and sites where the identity of the occupant is not clear.

Recorded Mi’kmaq sites, green stars, with ethnographic sites shown as stars with blue highlights.
Recorded Innu sites, green stars, with ethnographic sites shown as stars with blue highlights.
Recorded Inuit sites, green stars, with ethnographic sites shown as stars with blue highlights.

As you can tell from the above discussion, archaeology is rarely a black and white discipline. However, that is a good thing, as no one wants a rigid research field that does not question itself or is not willing to listen to other reasonable ideas. Take for example the data I presented above with regard to existing Indigenous sites. There are several ways to interpret the data, for example, many of these sites are multi-cultural, such as several of the sites in Red Bay. It is always possible that artifacts or features of the sites are identified as Inuit by the archaeologist but they are actually from another culture. In addition, on some sites the culture that occupied the site is unclear so the archaeologist recorded the site as having an ‘Inuit?’ or ‘Innu?’ component. However, if we remove those multi-cultural sites or sites where the culture is recorded as ‘?’ and just look at sites where there is only one culture recorded without any ‘?’ cultural designations I think the site numbers are more reliable:

  • 11 known Mi’kmaq sites and two of them are ethnographic
  • 337 known Innu sites and 26 of them are ethnographic
  • 476 known Inuit sites and 13 of them are ethnographic – of these, the Island of Newfoundland has four known Inuit archaeology sites

The following three maps show all known sites including only single culture sites and excluding multi-cultural sites and sites where the identity of the occupant is not clear.

Recorded Mi’kmaq sites, green stars, with ethnographic sites shown as stars with blue highlights.
Recorded Innu sites, green stars, with ethnographic sites shown as stars with blue highlights.
Recorded Inuit sites, green stars, with ethnographic sites shown as stars with blue highlights.

What kind of conclusions can we draw from these maps? Well, certainly archaeology researchers could do more to search for and identify Mi’kmaq sites on the island. The only Mi’kmaq sites that have ever been excavated were Burnt Knaps in the early 1980s & Temagan Gospen in the early 1990s both of which were early 20th century sites. In terms of the Inuit and Innu, the maps certainly suggest a different lifestyle focused on different resources. The vast majority of Innu sites are interior sites while the vast majority of Inuit sites are on the coast. This certainly reinforces the idea that, on both ethnographic and archaeological sites, the Innu were focussed on interior terrestrial resources while the Inuit were focused on marine coastal resources.

6 thoughts on “Contemporary Indigenous sites

  1. I’d learned through a previous course that there had been very little archaeology work done on the interior, especially with respect to Newfoundland’s Mi’kmaq people, but seeing the map just puts that in a very clear light. Hopefully that’s something that will see more work and spotlight moving forward.

  2. Another great post! There is certainly room for additional research into contemporary sites. Hopefully any gaps in archaeological record will be filled as more and more research is done.

  3. Thank-you, it’s nice to see some validity to Mi’kmaw Indigenous identity in NL. I really appreciate your feedback on this. I look forward to hearing about new discoveries.

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