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Policy

A cynic might ask: even assuming that archaeology is important to Canada, do governments really care? Canada has a panoply of federal, provincial and territorial governments with their own laws and their own priorities. Issues pertaining to "property" are normally assigned by the Constitution to provincial governments. So at best, the federal government's own role would be confined primarily to:

  • land that it owns (national historic sites and parks, lands belonging to federal departments like such as National Defence or Agriculture and Agri–Food) or

  • lands where it exercises some control (land where there is a federally regulated undertaking such as a railway or airport, or where a federally regulated development project is proposed).

Given those constraints, what is the likelihood that archaeology plays a significant role in federal policy? In the words of one report:

Considering all the issues that face Canadians today, how important is it that the federal government improve protection and management of the archaeological heritage under its jurisdiction?4

The answer, offered by the federal government itself, is that archaeology is often our only clue to Canada's past.5 Even apparently minor discoveries may fill an important gap in our understanding.6 The federal government has therefore sought to "provide coherent direction to all federal departments and agencies involved with archaeological heritage, whether as landholders or developers, as administrators of policies and programs which impinge on archaeological resources or as managers accountable for aspects of archaeological heritage.";7 In short, "from the federal perspective, the protection and management of archaeological heritage is important."8

According to the Government of Canada Archaeological Heritage Policy Framework: As our archaeological heritage is a source of inspiration and knowledge, it is the policy of the Government of Canada to protect and manage archaeological resources.... By protecting and managing this resource through policy, legislation and programs, the Government will achieve a general symmetry with international standards and provincial measures.9Comparable policy statements are to be found among provincial and territorial governments as well. But the importance of archaeology rests not only with well–intentioned policies; it is also a matter of law.