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Stories from the Indigenous Internship Program: Seeing the Past Through Archeology and Language

The Indigenous Program at MOA was developed by six Indigenous partners: the Musqueam Indian Band, the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, the Haida Gwaii Museum, the U’mista Cultural Society, the Nlaka’pamux Nation, the Coqualeetza Cultural Society, and the Museum of Anthropology at UBC. The program provides training opportunities for Indigenous people working in museums or Indigenous people who would like to do this kind of work. Funding for the Indigenous Internship Program is provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Our latest series of MOA Stories feature the fascinating research conducted by members of the Fall 2023 cohort during their internship.

Seeing the Past Through Archeology and Language

By Lesli Louie (Tahltan)

Didenek’eh Dagaye ush’yē . Lesli Louie ush’yē. Eth’eni kime jasini. Tses’kiye esdāts’ehi. Tāłtān didene jasini. Łuwechōn host’ih ja’astīn, Tātl’ah nasdē. (My Tāłtān name is Swan. Lesli Louie is my given name. I’m from the Eth’eni house and the Crow Clan of the Tahltan Nation. I grew up in Iskut, and live in Dease Lake.)

Me with a housing I made for wet-site basketry. Photo by Mauray Toutloff.

Tahltan territory is in northern British Columbia, centered on the Stikine River. It encompasses about 93,500 square kilometres and includes part of the Yukon Territory, taking up 11 percent of the province. The Tahltan constitute the fourth division of the Nahane (People of the West). And now I’ve come 1,750 kilometres south to take part in MOA’s Indigenous Internship Program. I came to learn about the “ins and outs” of archaeological and cultural repository work, including collections, curatorial, conservation and archaeology.

I work with the Language / Culture & Heritage departments for my nation, as a Document Specialist. I love to escape into the lives of my ancestors: reading and hearing about the history, language, stories and culture; working hard and engaging with my Elders, knowledge holders and language keepers; and preserving and revitalizing our language and culture. I also love digging and playing in the dirt and learning more about my people.

Learning about repository work with Natasha and fellow interns Darius and Roderick in LOA. Photo by Lesli Louie.
Seeing the past through archaeology. Photo by Lesli Louie.

I love archaeology and always had an interest in it, so it was great to finally get to help work as a field monitor technician a few years ago. I was able to work on some projects and made some incredible finds: cairns, lithics and tools that our ancestors left behind for us to tell our story—gifts for future generations. We just got approved for having our own repository in our territory, and are looking forward to the process and repatriating our belongings back to our homelands. I am also learning how to work with hide and am very interested in bringing back our old-style Tahltan patterns, shapes, motifs and beadwork.

My main focus is language revitalization and preserving dah dẕāhge (our language). My language and culture are very important to me, as we are on the endangered speakers list. My goal is to get us off that list and get more of our youth and adults involved. Ka’a jāni as̱it’īn! We are still here!

So happy to listen to recordings of my ancestors. Photo by Lesli Louie.

 I was so happy when I got into contact with the librarian and archivist at MOA; they were more than helpful in helping me find some documents that had my Tsiye Chief Louie Louie’s name in it. It makes me really proud to see and hear his name and legacy.  They also showed me the “Tahltan Native Studies” study materials that former teacher Karen Clark had helped out with in her time in my territory back in the 1960s to 1980s. She worked with many of my Elders, all of whom are now my ancestors. I am happy that she was able to capture the stories and legends, songs and language from my Elders. She also had some items that she donated to MOA and it was really cool to see those.

Tahltan beadwork is so beautiful and inspiring. MOA Collections A2.63. Photo by Lesli Louie.

It makes me so proud to hear my people and my mother tongue in recordings of the people who came before me. I spent long nights listening to these recordings, and it sure hit home. I found this file while I was researching a few years ago and always wanted to listen to them! This has been intriguing and interesting for me. I am grateful for having this chance to bring back these teachings, stories and language to my people and our next generations. I also had the chance to listen to recordings on the exhibition Mehodihi: Well-known Traditions of the Tahltan People, Our Great Ancestors Lived that Way that was organized at MOA back in the early 2000s. This makes my heart happy and full. I got to listen to my Tsiye Robert Quock and Estū Jenny and their wisdom on the language from this exhibit, while they were naming the items here in MOA. I was very happy to transcribe and didn’t want to quit listening. Now I’m looking forward to hearing more once they are finished being digitized.

This is my passion! I’ve learned so much in my time here with a deadly cohort team and some great mentors to help us along the way. Soga edent’īn, Mēduh. Take care, thank you!