11.00 Archaeological Heritage as a Catalyst for Pubic Engagement, Rural Rejuvenation, and Rethinking Our Shared Past: Perspectives from a Quarter Century of Community Archaeology in Newfoundland and Labrador
Archaeological research in Canada’s easternmost province enjoys a long and evolving history of community partnerships. This is due, in part, to Memorial University’s unique mandate, which includes a “special obligation to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.” This obligation promoted community-based research agendas long before knowledge transfer was institutionalized elsewhere. Starting in Red Bay, Labrador, in 1978, local residents worked alongside archaeologists to unearth the remains of the sixteenth-century Basque whaling industry. The social and economic benefits of the annual archaeological excavations, combined with the national and international interests in these discoveries, transformed this sleepy fishing village into one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s foremost tourist attractions.
The early 1990s saw an important shift in the nature of partnerships between archaeologists and the communities in which they conducted research. Not-for-profit community groups began to work closely with archaeologists in an effort to preserve and promote former Aboriginal and European occupations throughout the province. Members of these community organizations—ranging from fishers and business people to teachers and accountants—brought valuable perspectives to the table and steered these research partnerships in directions that sought to maximize educational and retraining opportunities, increase public input and engagement, develop/expand tourism potential, and maintain an equal stake in how their town’s history is represented.
Today, the majority of publicly accessible archaeological sites in Newfoundland and Labrador involve strong community-based management, whether it is from a town council, not-for-profit foundation, or historical society. The recognized stakeholders have also grown: government officials, the interested pubic, local historians, sport divers, metal detector enthusiasts, and descendants of those who lived and worked on the same lands where archaeologists conduct their excavations, all have a role in preserving and rethinking a shared past.
Beginning early in the millennium, the province’s Aboriginal communities also partnered with archaeologists to help address their concerns. These new partnerships have not always been about the development of particular archaeological sites, but have focused more on the creation of a body of historical and cultural material informed by both traditional knowledge and academia that could become a community resource used to bolster everything from land claims and identity, to education and economic initiatives. Partnerships initiated by the southern Inuit of NunatuKavut and the Nunatsiavut government have used community-based archaeology projects to provide skills training, develop fledgling heritage industries, update provincial school curricula, expand adult literacy programs, and inform policy development in newly established Aboriginal territories and governments.
An increasing awareness and acceptance of the ways in which archaeology and traditional knowledge can overlap has increased the number and types of questions we have sought to address, and has pushed archaeology in new, socially-relevant directions. Archaeological heritage and its interpretation and dissemination are no longer the exclusive purview of academia. Archaeologists and communities are now equal partners, and collectively move toward many common goals.