Delving into the ancient past has inspired the future aspirations of four First Nations youth.
For two days in early August four teenage girls from Nenqayni Wellness Centre Society north of Williams Lake spent time in the field with a team of archaeologists from the Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN).
WLFN natural resources co-ordinator Brittany Cleminson said Sugar Cane Archaeology, a WLFN entity, was approached by Angie Brinoni, the program co-ordinator at Nenqayni, asking if such a hands-on experience was possible.
“She wanted us to show them what an artifact is and how we find them,” Cleminson told the Tribune. “The girls were so excited about going back to their home communities and applying for archaeology work. They want to learn more and are coming back next week to tour our lab.”
On the first day the youth did some book learning right at an excavation site on-reserve near Highway 97 and Sutton Road.
The site was uncovered during a slide in Aug. 2019. They were split into two groups and one worked with Cleminson doing digging and the other group with Whitney Spearing, project manager, doing cleaning and analyzing.
The groups switched on the second day and then everyone gathered for drumming, prayers, and a round table.
“It was a beautiful full circle thing,” Cleminson said, noting during the time the youth were there they found about 150 new artifacts. There were no formed tools, but there was the point of a broken knife and lots of little flakes.
Brinoni said she was extremely grateful the youth were able to participate in such an ‘amazing experience.’
“Whitney and Brittany were able to ignite the curiosity and interest of all the participants,” she said. “The youth engaged in all aspects of the dig asking questions, logging artifacts and learning so many fascinating facts about the incredible history of this area. I sincerely hope that we will be able to continue to share this incredible experience with as many of our youths as possible.”
Responses from the youth were equally enthusiastic and because of privacy their names cannot be included.
One said she had so much fun and found that Cleminson and Spearing knew so much about her culture.
“Learning the history was cool and that the ancestors were here so many thousands of years ago right up to 150 to 200 years ago it was amazing. I would love to come back and work for the summer.”
All four youth will receive a letter of recognition and a reference they can use to build their job and career skills, Cleminson said.
Another youth said she wants to find out what she needs to study in school so she can become an archaeologist.
“I would to like learn more about our history. I am hoping to come back for a summer internship,” she said.
For a third youth the opportunity was inspiring. She said Cleminson and Spearing were smart and taught them much in a short time about their ancestors and what tools they used and how they lived.
“I would love to spend a summer digging with them it would be amazing. I am going to try to contact representatives in my band to maybe start volunteering or maybe working with the archeology department back home,” she noted.
The fourth youth said finding artifacts from thousands of years ago made her think about how the ancestors lived.
“I am going to apply to work for a summer as an intern for next year,” she said.
Sugar Cane Archaeology has a mandate from WLFN chief and council to provide community engagement and doing the archaeological heritage workshop with the youth was one way of doing that, Cleminson said.
“We want to try and reach out more,” she added.