Parks Canada and the Mi'kmaq Rights Initiative are teaming up to enhance archeological projects in Nova Scotia.
The groups have been working together for about five years, but a new collaborative model will ensure Mi'kmaw culture and history are considered when planning and developing infrastructure projects at national historic sites.
Kait MacLean, a staff archeologist with the Mi'kmaq Rights Initiative's archeology research division, said the new model brings "archeology to the forefront" of Parks Canada projects.
"Mi'kmaq have been here in this land and the waters since time immemorial. There is such a rich cultural history and it's really important for Mi'kmaq to protect, preserve and to really celebrate that," MacLean told CBC Radio's Mainstreet on Wednesday.
"So I think just bringing archeology to the forefront of these projects has really been a big improvement."
The Mi'kmaq Rights Initiative, also known as the Kwilmu'kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office or KMKNO, has been working with Parks Canada on archeological projects in Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site.
The latest project has crews searching for evidence of artifacts before trails can be repaired at Kejimkujik National Park Seaside in Port Joli, N.S. Crews with Parks Canada, the KMKNO and Boreas Heritage Consulting were working together at the site on Tuesday.
Rebecca Dunham, an archeologist with the Indigenous affairs and cultural heritage directorate of Parks Canada, was there. Dunham said previously, projects would often feel rushed and there wasn't as much consultation with Mi'kmaw knowledge holders.
Now, this collaborative model allows the groups to have open discussions and find common ground before moving ahead on projects.
"What it really does is it allows us to do much better archeology than we've done in the past by incorporating information from Indigenous knowledge holders [and] from local community members," Dunham told Mainstreet.
"Archeology is really, really about understanding people and people in the past more than objects, so [this model] really allows us to do archeology the way we really should be doing it."
MacLean said having Mi'kmaw community involvement is "extremely valuable" when examining a new site.
"We, as archaeologists, can learn so much from people that have this traditional knowledge [to] be able to see the landscape in perhaps a different way than we would have otherwise," she said.
Dunham said the model has already improved archeological digs because it's more consistent and allows for better, more thorough testing of potential Mi'kmaw sites.
She said a "very important site" was actually discovered after three small pieces of evidence were found. The new model calls for more testing even if only one piece of evidence is found.
"That initiated expanded testing and it led to the discovery of a pretty significant site down at Kej Beach," Dunham said. "The model works, and from a scientific point of view, having that consistent standard methodology is really good in the long run."
MacLean said she's looking forward to working with Parks Canada on other projects. She said so far, the feedback provided by Mi'kmaw knowledge holders and community members has been taken into consideration and implemented.
"We know that the party on the other side of the table is going to be receptive and respectful and genuinely looking to come to a conclusion together," she said.
"That makes a really big difference for us because then we're not put on the defensive coming in. We don't have to prove necessarily every single thing that we're saying. We're able to just be open and collaboratively move forward with things."
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