Archaeology and Aboriginal Rights and Title in Canada

My Ph.D. dissertation looks at archaeology and Aboriginal rights and title. A quick description of the work follows. If you are interested in my work, please contact me.

The 2014 Supreme Court Tsilhqot’in decision, one of the latest in a long string of momentous rulings on Aboriginal rights and title, provides the first recognition of Aboriginal title for a designated area of land. Tsilhqot’in reaffirms essential evidentiary standards for proving Aboriginal title and rights—sufficient, continuous, and exclusive occupation of territory. Archaeology, as apparent by the many references to archaeology in precedent setting cases, is a valuable line of evidence in land claims and aboriginal rights and title cases. My dissertation will study how archaeology can best contribute to land claims cases through the development and presentation of evidence relating to continuity, exclusivity, and sufficiency.

Continuous use of land requires proof of occupation, without major intervention, beyond 1846 (in British Columbia).

Exclusive use of land requires proof of intention and capacity to control access to the claimed land using means consistent with group characteristics.

Sufficient use of land requires proof of cultural activities of the claimant group across the territory in question.

My objective is to determine how archaeology can best facilitate Aboriginal rights and title claim through contributions to the three evidentiary standards. My research seeks to answer three questions.

  1. How have the evidentiary standards to prove Aboriginal rights and title changed over time?
  2. What archaeological methods and data have influenced these evidentiary standards?
  3. What types of archaeological evidence are used and when is archaeology used in conjunction with or instead of other types of evidence?

Archaeology yields evidence courts use to assess Aboriginal title claims. By better understanding how the courts consider this evidence, archaeologists can improve the accuracy and precision of the inferences we make about the past. In addition to improvements in rigour from mandates to match court-defined standards of evidence, archaeology gains relevance from application in matters of utmost consequence to people and society. Archaeology and archaeological clients deserve to benefit from improved work products. Most importantly, archaeologists improve ethical and practical capacities to work with Indigenous communities and archaeologists can help Indigenous groups regain the territory at the heart of their sovereignty.


Creative Commons Licence
The images presented here were created by Tiaré Jung of Drawing Change and first appeared in a poster presented at the 2017 meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. They are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.