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An Approach to Aboriginal Cultural Landscapes
GUIDELINES FOR THE IDENTIFICATION OF ABORIGINAL CULTURAL LANDSCAPES
Consultation of Experts
In preparing the background paper for the HSMBC, what kind of consultation did the author undertake?
The concept of Aboriginal cultural landscapes was explored with about forty people in the course of developing the paper. They represent disciplines ranging from history and archaeology to landscape architecture and park management. They include Parks Canada, provincial and territorial staff in all parts of the country, consultants with extensive experience in working with Aboriginal communities, and Aboriginal people in umbrella agencies and in various other positions.
Consistently, they pointed out the complexity and intensity of Aboriginal tradition as it relates to the land. They emphasized the importance of the relationship with land within Aboriginal culture, and the holistic nature of that relationship. They noted that the concept of "land" included water and sky as well as earth. They consistently drew attention to the continuous living relationship Aboriginal people have with the land, as well as the interrelationship of people, animals, and spirits in the land.
Traditional Aboriginal cultures value the spiritual, mental and emotional dimensions of living with particular environments in addition to the physical aspects. Cosmology, places of power, narratives associating spirit beings with the land, kinship and language attachments to place were recurrent themes. Those consulted also underlined the importance of uses and activities, from harvesting physical resources and social gatherings to rituals and ceremonies, as core expressions of relation to the land. They signalled, as defining attitudes, Aboriginal peoples' attachments to these aspects of land, rather than to place as a thing to be owned. They elaborated on the diversity of historical experience across time and place as well as differing situations of Aboriginal peoples today. Those differences of historical experience, geographical contexts, and current status influence Aboriginal peoples' relations to landscapes today.
Those consulted consistently emphasized the crucial role of Aboriginal participation in any identification of landscapes for commemoration as national historic sites. The associated people will not necessarily be current occupiers or users of the land, but may have a historic relationship still significant to their culture, such as the Huron of Loretteville, Quebec, to the territory in southern Ontario that they left in the mid-17th century.
Traditional knowledge was continuously identified as the key sources for understanding and recognizing the values of place to Aboriginal people, while archaeology, ethnohistory, and ethnography were acknowledged as the most relevant academic fields.