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An Approach to Aboriginal Cultural Landscapes


NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE DESIGNATIONS OF ABORIGINAL CULTURAL LANDSCAPES

The Perspective of the 1990s

How has the HSMBC's approach to designation related to Aboriginal history changed since 1990?

The movement from viewing objects through perspectives of art history and archaeology, characteristic of the HSMBC's experience in commemorating Aboriginal history from the late 1960s through the 1980s, to seeing cultural landscapes associated with living peoples reflects the new standards of the 1990s. One of the key implications of this redefinition in approaching landscapes is the involvement of associated peoples directly in the selection, research design, designation, and management of places of heritage significance.

Stones piled to resemble standing person.
Inuksuit, Spence Bay, Northwest Territories.
© National Archives of Canada / Richard Harrington / PA 129873, 1951.

Under the Commemoration of Northern Native History initiative of 1990-91, the Board explored issues and a preliminary classification of sites related to the commemoration of the history of Native people. That year the Board recommended that sites of spiritual and/or cultural importance to Native peoples generally should be considered to be eligible for designation as national historic sites even when no tangible cultural resources exist, providing that there is evidence, garnered through oral history, or otherwise, that such sites are indeed seen to have special meaning to the culture in question and that the sites themselves are fixed in space. (HSMBC Minutes, February 1990)

Background papers identified that "from a Native perspective commemorative potential seemed to derive from one or a combination of the following: the traditional and enduring use of the land; the relationship between the people and the land; and recent events in a First Nation's history, such as its relationships with newcomers...."(Goldring, 1990; Goldring and Hanks, 1991)

Inspired by a presentation on the Red Dog Mountain and the Drum Lake Trail in the western Northwest Territories, the Board took particular interest in exploring the significance of mythical or sacred sites and in the potential of "linear sites or trails encompassing a number of tangible resources ... and emphasizing linkages between a people and the land".(HSMBC Minutes, March 1991)

As a result of formal and informal consultations during 1990-91, it was apparent that any framework for addressing Aboriginal history must conform with emerging prescriptions in successive northern land claims regarding heritage and cultural sites (Lee, 1997b). It must also respect Aboriginal world views encapsulated in the enduring relationship between people and the land, and to achieve the latter objective, must recognize that "[w]hat distinguishes Native Peoples' understanding, however, is the extent to which the human relationship with places has ethical, cultural, medicinal and spiritual elements, which are interwoven with patterns of economic use. Stories are told about particular parts of the land, spiritual powers exist in certain places which are absent elsewhere, and teachings are annexed to specific places in ways that have little counterpart in non-Native society. In Native cultures, these attributes are often more important than the physical, tangible remains of past human use of land."(Goldring and Hanks, 1991: 14)

Cliff faces overlooking river
Red Dog Mountain, Northwest Territories
© Parks Canada / Archaeological Services Branch / Ellen Lee / no date.

This latter holistic vision has proven the most difficult to implement. By 1991, the Board had already before them a basic outline of perceptions, issues, and structures for approaching northern Aboriginal sites that would gradually and increasingly direct their considerations and recommendations on the commemoration of the history of Aboriginal peoples for the rest of the decade. The decision not to proceed with a study of petroglyphs and pictographs and to shift resources to community-based studies marked a key stage.

The Board has come only gradually, through a series of thematic and site specific studies, to consider how effectively the values of Aboriginal peoples in relation to their history can define national historic significance and identify places that embody that significance.

 

Last Updated: 2008-10-17 To the top
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