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Where time stands still
Archaeological project discussed this summer

Kassina Ryder
Northern News Services
Published Friday, May 11, 2012

When looking for pieces of the past, archeologists researching Tuktut Nogait National Park know that following in the footsteps of ancient peoples means following the caribou.

NNSL photo/graphic

Caribou migrate through Tuktut Nogait National Park's lakes and rivers and people camped there as well. Kayak rests have been found near rivers where caribou crossed. - photo courtesy of Tom Nesbitt

“The movements of the caribou will be important,” said Ellen Lee. “Ecological information about the caribou and the other wildlife in the area is also important. That’s why they were there.”

Lee is a retired archeologist and a member of the park’s management board, appointed by Parks Canada. She said part of doing archeological research will involve tracking the Bluenose-West Caribou herds that pass through the area each year. The hope is that their paths will lead to sites and artifacts left behind by the ancient people who hunted them, Lee said.

Exactly who those people were is part of what makes researching the park fascinating, said John Muffa Kudlak, a member of the park’s management board.

While some elders, including Kudlak’s grandfather, told stories of infrequent trips into the park to hunt and fish, the area hasn’t been regularly used by recent generations of Inuvialuit.

“He remembers in the 1940s or so, walking inland from Paulatuk to harvest caribou because there was none around at that time,” Kudlak said.

Stories told by today’s elders were passed down through generations, but those stories are now very old.

“They were saying that’s way before their parents’ lifetime, so it can go back at least two or three hundred plus years,” Kudlak said. “So it’s one of the questions we, as a management board, are trying to find out.”

Questions about who used the park and when are a part of the project’s main focus.

“After the Tuktut Nogait agreement was signed, they started finding archeological sites,” Kudlak said. “We’re still trying to connect the pieces together, asking who was there and what time were they there, just to tell the story to the rest of Canada and the world.”

Lee said the project is unique for a variety of reasons. The area is located between the Alaskan Inuit lands to the west and Copper Inuit lands to the east, which Lee said could have had influence on both cultures.

The sites are also relatively unexplored compared to other archeological sites in the Arctic, she added. Combined with the lack of use by Inuvialuit hunters in recent years, Lee said the project is definitely intriguing.

“It’s a bit of a mystery,” she said. “It’s not easy to interpret exactly who lived there and when they lived there and what happened. It’s a challenge from a research and understanding point of view.”

Kudlak said one reason why Inuvialuit hunters aren’t using the park is simple – the advent of easier methods of transportation.

Thanks to snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles, hunting no longer means walking for weeks to traditional hunting grounds.

“In the earlier years, they’d walk two weeks inland to hunt caribou in the fall time,” Kudlak said. “Now, with different transportation vehicles, they’re not really going inland compared to our ancestors before us.”

Vehicles didn’t just change the way animals are hunted, but where and when as well, Kudlak added.

“Years ago, they would walk inland and now people are harvesting along the coastline along with the use of boats,” he said. “It’s not like 70 years ago where they just had foot and dog packs.”

Kudlak said the people that used the area would have shared their time between the coast, north of the park, and camps located inland.

“That’s where we’re finding all these archeological sites, way inland,” he said. “They weren’t really a coastal people.”

People would have spent their winters on the coast and travelled inland to hunt caribou in the summer. Kudlak said kayak rests found at inland sites indicate that people either carried kayaks to their camp in the fall, or stored them there over the winter.

While more than 400 sites have been found in the park so far, finding artifacts at coastal overwintering sites is much more difficult, said Lee. The annual melting of the sea ice meant artifacts are now underwater.

“A lot of activities would have taken place out on the ice,” she said. “We’re not going to find that.”

Lee said there will likely be a consultation with members of the community to ask about doing research in Inuvialuit-owned lands outside of the park’s boundary. She said the people who used the park lands would have travelled outside what is now the area encompassed by Tuktut Nogait.

“They (animals) didn’t respect boundaries and the people didn’t either,” she said.

Lee and Kudlak said a consultation will take place in the park this summer to determine the project’s next steps. Kudlak said he plans on getting two youth from Paulatuk involved. He said making young people a part of the project will hopefully foster their interest in becoming active board members in the future, as well as connecting them to the land and elders.

“That way, the youth can learn more and they’re open for questions rather than the community setting,” he said. “Everything is happening so quick in town, but out on the land, the clock stops ticking.”

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