A pair of Selkirk College students are gaining valuable insight and experience as part of the six-week Hamilton College field school taking place at the Slocan Narrows Pithouse Village.
Allysa Webber and Mike Graeme are two of the post-secondary students participating in the Slocan Narrows Archaeological Project just north of Lemon Creek. Work on the pithouse village has been taking place since 2000 when archeologists from the University of Montana and University of Lethbridge began the process of mapping out and exploring the footprints of the past. Almost 40 housepits have been identified and radiocarbon dating has revealed that four different periods of occupation exist stretching from approximately 3,105 years ago to the late 18th Century.
Allysa Webber and Mike Graeme are Selkirk College students participating in the Slocan Narrows Archaeological Project just north of Lemon Creek. Under the direction of New York state’s Hamilton College, the six-week field school will culminate with a Archeology Open House this Sunday between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Everyone is welcome.
“It’s really amazing,” says Webber. “One of the very exciting aspects of the project is that we have the ability to put pieces together and figure out exactly what was happening at that time.”
This Sunday, Webber and Graeme will join seven other students, three teaching assistants and the two Hamilton College project coordinators at the Archaeology Open House. As the field school draws to a close, the open house will be an opportunity for students to guide the public through the importance of the site and what they have discovered since in mid-June.
Viewing Home Through a New Lens
Graeme first visited the pithouse village as a guest during the 2012 field school. The 23-year-old Nelsonite began his post-secondary studies in the Selkirk College School of University Arts & Sciences and this January transferred to the University of Victoria where he is majoring in anthropology.
Graeme and his peers have spent the last five weeks meticulously digging through the ancient pithouses mapping out important links to the past. From small stone chips to larger tools used for hunting, scraping and cutting, the human-made objects help provide important insight into the lives of the people who lived along the river.
Mike Graeme at work in one of the pithouses. After starting his university pathway at Selkirk College, Graeme transferred to the University of Victoria this past January where he is studying anthropology.
“Actually being in a house really shows me that I am a guest in a house that didn’t belong to my ancestors which is thousands of years old,” says Graeme. “It really shows me that I am a guest in this land even though I was born here.”
The important work of documenting the archeological dig is the main focus of the field school, but students have been able to delve even deeper with a number of guest speakers, workshops and a trip to Kettle Falls in Washington state where regional links to the pithouses were pieced together.
Graeme says his personal experience has gone well beyond the discoveries in the dirt along the Slocan River.
“I hope this experience will bring me opportunities to be more involved in indigenous rights movements and the strengthening of relations between First Nations and settlers, especially in this region of the West Kootenay,” he says.
Deepening Understanding of a Vital Culture
Webber finished her third year in the School of University Arts & Sciences and has been accepted to the University of Victoria in the fall. The 20-year-old says having an opportunity to deepen her understanding of archaeology and anthropology in the area where she grew up has been exciting.
“In the cultural depression that I am working in, it initially started out that we had no idea what it was,” says Webber. “We were a little bit disappointed to be placed there because it might have just been a dip in a ground. But we have been finding things really consistently. The first flake you pull out of the screen was so exciting and it has continued to be that way.”
Allysa Webber (far right) at work in one of the pithouses with her team of Hamilton College students. Webber says one of the additional benefits of the field school is getting to meet fellow post-secondary students who are from a number of different regions of the United States.
A graduate of Mount Sentinel Secondary, Webber decided to stay close to home to start her post-secondary pathway. When she began at Selkirk College, Webber wasn’t sure where her education focus would end up and after getting the opportunity to explore different areas has an emboldened sense of her direction.
“I don’t know if I would have been able to do it without Selkirk College,” she says. “I have always liked school and didn’t want to stray away from it after high school, but I also didn’t want to end up in debt when I wasn’t sure what my end game was. Selkirk College has been really helpful for allowing me to get on the pathway I want to pursue.”
An Important Partnership for Selkirk College
Hamilton College is a private liberal arts college located on the other side of the continent in Clinton, New York. The field school is coordinated by Hamilton College Associate Professor of Anthropology Dr. Nathan Goodale and Hamilton College Instructor of Anthropology Alissa Nauman who arrive to the site every second year. Seven of the field school’s nine student participants are based out of Hamilton College.
This is the third time that Selkirk College has partnered with Hamilton College to bring a local flavour to the project. Selkirk College Anthropology Instructor Lori Barkley has helped foster the partnership with Hamilton College and says the experience for local students is outstanding.
“It is the Cadillac of field schools and an opportunity our students wouldn’t normally have,” says Barkley, who has taught at Selkirk College since 1999. “It’s important for building that connection in the classroom that you can then take into the field at the field school. You finally get to see the history and connect it with the present.”
The six-week field school also receives support from the Slocan Valley Rail Trail Society, Columbia Basin Trust and the local Sinixt people. Anyone interested in learning more about the project is invited to the Archeological Open House on July 12 that will take place between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Interactive guided tours will be held throughout the day and a barbecue will raise money for the Slocan Valley Rail Trail Society. The site can be found by taking Highway 6 north of Winlaw where parking will be available at the Lemon Creek Trail Head.
Graeme says he is looking forward to taking visitors on a trip through time that he was fortunate to experience over the last few weeks.
“It’s very fulfilling to see this place in a new light,” he says. “It’s a way to pursue my degree, but also connect with history of the area where I grew up.”