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"Who were these mysterious people?" : the Marpole Midden, Coast Salish identity, and the dispossession of Aboriginal lands in British Columbia Roy, Susan

Abstract

The Marpole Midden, located near the Musqueam Indian Reserve on the Fraser River's north arm, has been the subject of anthropological research, institutional excavation, national commemoration, and controversy. From the late 1880s to the 1960s, major international museums, local historical societies, and university archaeologists mined the site for human skeletal remains and cultural objects for their collections and research into the origins of the early inhabitants of the area. However, this place is known to the Musqueam First Nation as an ancient village and burial ground called cesna:m. The historical construction of the midden as an archaeological site and not an Aboriginal village distanced, in the minds of non-Natives, the Musqueam from association with the place. Importantly, this distancing contributed to the non-recognition of Aboriginal rights of ownership to ancestral places, and unoccupied or seasonally occupied villages that were not recognized by the reserve creation process. Thus, this study explores how western ideology and narrative worked to redefine Aboriginal land as sites of archaeology and science, and interrogates several enduring western dichotomies: prehistoric/living, unoccupied/occupied, archaeological/ ethnographic, and cultural/ historical. This research traces shifting indigenous, archaeological, and popular theories about the identities of the people who lived at such "prehistoric" sites, paying attention to how identity is conceptualized and how power is drawn from this process. In other words, it does not determine who these people were, but asks, who claims the authority to assign meaning to the skeletal remains and cultural objects taken from these places and what are the historical and political circumstances in which such assertions are made? This study explores the relationship between the local colonial culture, which served to disassociate Aboriginal people from ancestral sites, and an anti-colonial or reclamation culture, which reasserted these connections, especially as Aboriginal interpretations of the past gained increasing legitimacy in the second half of the twentieth century. It traces the linkages, both conceptual and material, between anthropology, popular representations of indigenous peoples and their connections to place, the political regime in British Columbia, and First Nations' ongoing struggles to gain recognition of Aboriginal title.

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