First Nation, UVic researchers to uncover ancient Indigenous village in Cordova Bay

First Nation, UVic researchers to uncover ancient Indigenous village in Cordova Bay

Members from the Tsawout First Nation and researchers from the University of Victoria will be conducting a field study this spring to uncover the history of an ancient Indigenous village.

It’s unclear when the village of ȾEL¸IȽĆ on the shores of Cordova Bay ceased to exist. Dr. Brian Thom, associate professor of anthropology at UVic, estimates the village began to be abandoned between 1860 and 1913.

ȾEL¸IȽĆ was at the centre of the South Saanich Treaty of 1852, in which much of the village, except certain areas, was signed over to the government.

Not much is known about ȾEL¸IȽĆ, and after a historic 2019 meeting with the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council, the District of Saanich and UVic members are ready to uncover it.

“To really bring culture back,” said Thom.

Beginning in May, a survey will be conducted across four sites in Cordova Bay: Agate Lane Park, McMorran Park, Cordova Bay Park, and a small portion of land on Waters Edge Road.

The team has received permits from the municipality. The area has already been prepped after removing park benches and tables.

July would be the start of ground penetrating radar to decide which areas to begin excavations, and the hope is to uncover domestic artifacts.

“We’re not looking to remove burials, but we’re very interested in things like ancient house floors, cooking hearths, other kinds of domesticated that would’ve been associated with life here 1,000 years ago,” said Thom.

But Tsawout First Nation member Mavis Underwood is looking to bring the excitement of history back to Indigenous youths.

“I want them to get excited about education, I want them to see that it’s something that can be important,” said Underwood, a Ph.D. student at UVic.

She and other Tsawout members will be involved in the field study to reverse the impacts of residential schools.

“That’s what’s important to the young people, to know they had a sense of belonging here. They have a history here. They have an ancestor here. That, to me, is what truth and reconciliation is all about,” said Underwood.

There have been very few excavations in the area. In 2008, 350 artifacts and numerous burials were uncovered during excavations for a waterfront home. Human remains discovered in 2021 on Cordova Bay Road were determined to be ancestral.

The practice of how developments are built is another change that Thom hopes this study will accomplish.

“We’re trying to come up with come to grips with that practice like we shouldn’t be desecrating Indigenous graves anymore. We should be thinking of ways to work respectfully,” said the professor.

Archaeologists from Washington State University will also be helping in the study and providing the ground penetrating radar technology.

Oli HerreraOli Herrera

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