Respect for Caribou: Indigenous Heritage and Archaeology of Ethen-Eldeli

Steve Kasstan (NWT Archaeologist’s Permit 2015-015)

Steve Kasstan undertook an archaeological survey of Wholdaia Lake for his Ph.D. research at Simon Fraser University. The survey is part of a collaborative research project with Black Lake Denesųłiné First Nation, Hatchet Lake Denesųłiné First Nation and Fond du Lac Denesųłiné First Nation investigating how Ethen Eldèli Denesųłiné show respect to caribou. The study area is 175 km northeast of Black Lake, Saskatchewan and is 585 km southeast of Yellowknife. Steve Kasstan directed investigations under Class 2 Northwest Territories Archaeologist Permit 2015-015. Elder Joe Rennie of Black Lake Denesųłiné First Nation assisted, sharing many oral traditions and personal accounts of living and hunting throughout the study area.

Our 2015 objectives were to identify ethnographic and archaeological sites associated with caribou hunting. Based on guidance from community partners, a well-known caribou crossing at Wholdaia Lake was surveyed. Historically, Samuel Hearne observed Ethen Eldèli Denesųłiné harvesting caribou at the Wholdaia Lake crossing in 1771. Later, J.B. Tyrrell guided by a traditional map by Ithingo Campbell crossed Wholdaia Lake in 1893. Notably, Tyrrell identified a traditional campsite on the portage between Flett Lake and Wholdaia Lake. In 2015, the harvesting area identified by Hearne and the campsite photographed by Tyrrell were visited.

We identified a cluster of ethnographic and archaeological sites at key locations along the caribou crossing. We recorded two archaeological stone circles sites, two caches, and a lithic. We visited numerous ethnographic campsites where Denesųłiné families made dry meat in the fall. We also visited the villages at Wholdaia Lake occupied in the 1970s and 1980s. The survey reveals a continuity of Denesųłiné use of the Wholdaia Lake caribou crossing. This is shown by middle Taltheilei tradition archaeological material, direct connections to Samuel Hearne and J.B. Tyrrell, and links between recent campsites and oral traditions.

(Edited by Shelley Crouch, Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre)