Centuries-old bison skull unearthed in Swan River

·3 min read

A Swan River area teacher has unearthed a centuries-old bison skull.

Shawn Charlebois said discovering the skull was a stroke of luck. He was out on the land harvesting materials for a planned teaching session with his company Red Road Compass in Crane River First Nation. While he was exploring, he came across the skull near a low-flowing river.

“I looked down at the bank and low and behold, I saw some pieces of bone that I had not seen before. I took a closer look, and it fell underneath an overhang near the river. I knew there had to be something there,” Charlebois said. “I looked underneath and ... there was actually a skull. It was pretty exciting.”

The resting place of the skull was right on the Swan River, located on 60 acres owned by Charlebois.

At regular water height, the bank sits about four or five feet high above the river with a bramble bush above shielding the area the skull was found in. He noted the river is irregularly low this year, which probably aided in his ability to spot the artifact.

It feels like the skull had been hidden away waiting to be discovered by him, Charlebois said.

“I’ve walked on that space numerous times.

“That one day was the day that I found it. That’s why I was so giddy.”

Before he began excavating, he stopped and grabbed his son so he could video the unearthing of the bison skull. He wanted to ensure he could share it with as many people as possible, he said.

“This is something very, very interesting,” Charlebois said. “If you think about [it], nobody has seen this skull in how long? We’re the first human eyes to see it in a very, very long time.”

Charlebois has spoken with a local archeologist who estimates the skull may be more than 1,000 years old.

The skull is currently being stored in a five-gallon pail in his mudroom. It will be used for Indigenous land-based healing and education through his company Red Road Compass.

“The way that I look at it and the way that I was raised is that we all go back to earth. These things go back to the earth. I treat it with respect and dignity, however, I don’t take care of it with kid gloves,” Charlebois said. “It’s to be used, to be shared.”

It’s incredibly special being the first eye to see the skull in more than a millennium, he said, and he hopes others can appreciate the magnitude of the discovery. The bison skull offers an amazing learning moment because it presents the chance to stop and appreciate the passage of time.

“I can use it as a teaching tool, and that’s really important to me,” Charlebois said.

At Red Road Compass, one of the ways he interacts with students is through land-based learning and by looking at flora, fauna and animal tracks while imparting cultural teachings. Charlebois added he hosts sessions in local schools and can use the bison during show and shares when speaking with students.

The bison skull can help children and adults get excited about preserving nature, he said, and help them recognize the responsibility they have in helping to protect and learn from it.

Charlebois said about two years ago he discovered what was identified to be bison vertebrae, 40 or 50 feet east of the skull’s location. He’s looking to connect with a local archeologist to see if they could do a dig and invite students to participate.

“Bones are sacred, but it’s not like a habitation site where you need to be ridiculously careful because you may break something or disrupt something that is significant,” Charlebois said. “This is important, but at least there’s a little bit of flexibility and freedom to explore and engage.”

» ckemp@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @The_ChelseaKemp

Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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