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An Approach to Aboriginal Cultural Landscapes


Consultation and Participation

What effect is the participation of associated peoples having on the process of designation related to Aboriginal history?

The active involvement of Aboriginal people, particularly Elders, has refocused the investigative effort from the analysis of physical resources to recognition of the holistic and essentially spiritual relationship of people and land. When the petroglyphs at Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia, were initially identified for commemoration, they were seen as the primary cultural resources of the park. Consultation with the Mi'kmaq people reoriented the commemorative focus from the single resource type to the whole park area.

Drawings on stone depicting humans and snakes.
Mi'kmaq Petroglyphs, Kejimkujik National Park/National Historic Site, Nova Scotia.
© Parks Canada / P.Hope /, 1982.

Arguing the "strong sense of connection between people and place", the paper prepared jointly by representatives of the Mi'kmaq people and Parks Canada's Atlantic regional office proposed three bases for commemoration of the "cultural landscape" of the region:

  • the 4000 year history of traditional land use in which the archaeological resources were largely undisturbed;
  • the natural environment of the park which enhanced an understanding of Mi'kmaq spirituality with the land;
  • and the petroglyph sites, which are a significant part of Mi'kmaq cultural and spiritual expression.(Mi'kmaq, 1994)
Waterfalls with rocky shoreline.
Waterfalls on the Mersey River, Kejimkujik National Park/National Historic Site, Nova Scotia.
© Parks Canada / Barrett & Mackay /, 1995.

The HSMBC recommended that : "the cultural landscape of Kejimkujik National Park which attests to 4000 years of Mi'kmaq occupancy of this area, and which includes petroglyph sites, habitation sites, fishing sites, hunting territories, travel routes and burials, is of national historic significance...."(HSMBC Minutes, November 1994)

The Mi'kmaq on Malpeque Bay, PEI(NHS 1996, 1997), designated as an "event" rather than as a place, focusses on the historical significance of 10,000 years of enduring use and settlement of the bay - "continuity and attachment to the land are seen as the defining factors in determining historical significance" - and on the bay as "a site of Native spirituality". For centuries, a traditional area for hunting, fishing, and gathering for the Mi'kmaq of Prince Edward Island, today the bay has a "profound symbolic value for many Mi'kmaq ...."(Johnston, A.J.B., 1996; HSMBC Minutes 1997, 1996)

Man reading interpretive panels between plaque and house.
Commemoration for the Mi'kmaq at Malpeque Bay on Lennox Island, Prince Edward Island.
© Parks Canada / Barb MacDonald / 1999.

The Deline Traditional Fishery and Old Fort Franklin, NWT (NHS 1996) were designated because of the Dene and Métis people's assistance to Sir John Franklin's second expedition and the impact of Franklin's and later expeditions on the Aboriginal people of the region, particularly in contributing "to the emergence of the Sahtu Dene as a distinctive cultural group".(Hanks, 1996; HSMBC Minutes, November 1996) As well, the Sahtu Dene identified the cultural significance of the fishery at Deline to their occupation of the region. The Sahtu Dene's request for protection and presentation of the site emphasizes the importance of place as an expression of Aboriginal history.

Handmade sign in boreal forest.
Location of Old Fort Franklin, Northwest Territories.
© National Archives of Canada / PA 19354, 1923.

Equally, when Parks Canada initiated a commemorative integrity exercise at Nan sdins/Ninstints National Historic Site, British Columbia, consultation with the hereditary chiefs argued for recognition of heritage values that identified not only the achievements of Haida art and architecture represented by the village - the focus of the National Historic Site and World Heritage Site designations - but also "the history of a people in a place": the continuing Haida culture and history, the connectedness of the Haida to the land and the sea, the sacredness of the site, and its role as the visual key to the oral traditions of the Haida over thousands of years.(Dick and Wilson, 1998)

Totem poles on forest edge.
Nan sdins/ Ninstints National Historic Site, British Columbia.
© Parks Canada / T. Sawyer / H., 1991.

All these examples demonstrate Parks Canada's move to implement four principles resulting from the National Workshops on the History of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada in 1992-94:(Parks Canada, 1994b)

  • fundamental importance of Aboriginal traditional knowledge to the understanding of the culture and history of all indigenous peoples;
  • invitation to Elders assist in documentation of sites and objects and to communities to assist in developing mechanisms to enable access by Aboriginal people to the collection;
  • meaningful participatory consultations with Aboriginal groups;
  • and Aboriginal peoples' taking a leading role in presenting their history and culture.

Involvement of Dogrib Elders in extensive studies along the Idaà Trail in the Northwest Territories similarly expanded the initial research design from a survey of traditional sites and documentation of Dogrib place names and narratives to documentation of sacred sites, travelling using traditional methods, and developing a training program in archaeological methods and recording of oral traditions for Dogrib youth.(Andrews and Zoe, 1997: 8- 10) In the resulting six category classification of sacred sites, Elders recognized five categories but not a sixth which represented identifications of significance from outside their culture.(Andrews, Zoe and Herder, 1998: 307-08)

Harry Simpson, Dogrib Elder, examining the remains of a birchbark canoe along Idaà Trail
Harry Simpson, Dogrib Elder, examining the remains of a birchbark canoe along Idaà Trail, Northwest Territories.
© Parks Canada / T.D. Andrews. / 1994.

Recent research projects submitted to the HSMBC have consistently and actively included involvement and consultation of local communities, including Elders. In July 1998 the HSMBC once again "reaffirmed the principle ... that consideration of Aboriginal Peoples' history must be predicated on active participation and consultation".(HSMBC Minutes)


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