Ezǫdzı̀tı (The Refuge)

Rebecca Gray (NWT Archaeologist’s Permit 2015-018)

In the August of 2015 our team conducted preliminary surveys and excavations within Ezǫdzı̀tı, otherwise known as ‘The Refuge’. The region is located near Grandin River, approximately 300km north of Yellowknife. It has been described within Tłı̨chǫ oral tradition as an important area of traditional land use. Additionally, oral tradition describes a prominent Tłı̨chǫ leader during the fur trade period known as Edzo, who was raised within Ezǫdzı̀tı. No archaeological research had previously been conducted within Ezǫdzı̀tı. Goals of this fieldwork were to identify areas of archaeological potential within the study area and derive insight about the significance of the landscape, such as seasonality of use, intensity and period of occupation, and to assess how Ezǫdzı̀tı fit into a regional pattern of land use by the Tłı̨chǫ. Tłı̨chǫ elders from the community of Behchokǫ̀ were interviewed about Ezǫdzı̀tı prior to the archaeological fieldwork. As a result of these interviews, survey efforts took place at a site known as KwidiiɁee or ‘Fish Trap Rock’, a narrow channel that was described by elders as a valuable location in the past for fishing.

We surveyed seven different localities surrounding KwidiiɁee and dug test pits at six of the seven localities identified. The results of the survey revealed that the area had been extensively used, both within the archaeological past as well as within recent historical periods. Two 1mx1m excavation units were opened at one of the localities and revealed numerous lithic flakes, suggesting a stone tool production site.

At another locality flakes of Tertiary Hills Clinker were discovered, an important material used in the production of stone tools and only available at a few quarries throughout the Northwest Territories. The presence of Tertiary Hills Clinker at KwidiiɁee suggests that this valuable material was being moved over significant distances, as no known quarries exist close to the site. A stone tool potentially belonging to the Arctic Small Tool tradition was also found at the same locality as the Tertiary Hills Clinker and from the same soil horizon, suggesting that the area may have been utilized for several hundred years prior to its more recent occupation.

Samples collected for radiocarbon dating will provide a more exact date of occupation. Signs indicating recent historical occupation of the region were indicated by surficial evidence such as metal tobacco and lard cans perforated with bullet holes, multiple axe-cut stumps, dog kennels, wooden poles used in fishing activities, and tipi frames.

Future fieldwork is anticipated for KwidiiɁee, as well as surveying other areas of Ezǫdzı̀tı. Given that this was the first season of fieldwork conducted in Ezǫdzı̀tı, there are many potential areas to be explored. Future research must also be collaborated with the Tłı̨chǫ. This project seeks to involve community members as part of the archaeological research and expand interviews about the oral tradition of the region to include additional communities.

All research was carried out in collaboration with the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Center (PWNHC), Tłı̨chǫ Research and Training Institute, and the University of Toronto. The field crew included Tom Andrews, Territorial Archaeologist at the PWNHC, Glen MacKay, Assessment Archaeologist at the PWNHC, Mike Donnelly, archaeologist, and Kaylee Woldum, an undergraduate and summer student at the PWNHC. Unfortunately due to overlap with events celebrating the ten year anniversary of the Tłı̨chǫ Land Claim Agreement no Tłı̨chǫ community members were able to participate in fieldwork, though we hope to have community members join us in future years. This research constitutes the foundation of Rebecca Gray’s master’s research at the University of Toronto.

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