Newly Elected Chief Wants More Representation For Dene Tha’

Joe Pastion, Dene Tha’ First Nation Chief

Joe Pastion, Dene Tha’ First Nation Chief

Members of The Dene Tha’ First Nation recently elected Joe Pastion as their new chief and expect him to represent them in more decision making over the next four years. At 40-years-old, Pastion is one of youngest elected Dene Tha’ chiefs but says the timing was right to run for election. “I was going to run in the last election, but decided it wasn’t the right time,” Pastion said. “I will bring my experience in economic development to the leadership as well as involving the community in decisions that will directly affect them.”

Pastion says he will continue implementing yearly up-front accountability that drives Dene Tha First Nation toward progress into the future, and he hopes to involve the community in investments. Other programs that will continue include projects that began at Bistcho Lake this year at archeological digs to get the children and youth involved in their traditions. “I want our leaders to emphasize our Dene culture and traditions because our history and roots are so important, and the programs that began this year at Bistcho Lake are a step in that direction,” said Pastion.

The Bistcho Lake project was initiated by Dene Tha’ First Nations from northern Alberta and managed by Director of Education for Dene Tha’ Perry Molton and Marc Stevenson, Project Main Archaeologist. Archaeologists from Taiga Archaeology Ltd. were invited to participate in the unique project this summer. Project goals were directed at getting high school students from the local Dene Tha’ communities interested in their own history and land and involve them in archaeological surveys conducted in nearby areas. The project also brought in elders to share information about local history and traditional sites, and they participated in a research survey to find archaeological sites indicating the significance and importance of Dene Tha’ lands in this part of the province.

In early July 2013, project manager Marc Stevenson, along with Perry Molton and Grzegorz Kwiecien, conducted archaeological surveys from boats along the shore of the lake. Several historic sites and settlements (including Jackfish Point and Indian Cabins at the southeastern portion of the lake) were surveyed, in addition to several traditional use areas and three precontact archaeological sites (two on the north side and one on the south side). One of the sites on the northeastern shore yielded a projectile point made of quartzite that could be associated with Taltheilei Shale Tradition. This tradition is considered ancestral to Dene people. Another site yielded a chithos (a large hide-working tool), and on the south side they found a multifunctional tool made of chert; they call it a “prehistoric Swiss Army knife.”

The archeologists learned from Dene Tha’ elder William Yatchotay about the Dene Tha’ history of the Bistcho Lake. The information and stories provided by William and other elders during the course of the project gave them an opportunity to understand the rich and interesting lives of Dene Tha’ in the area and how they coped and lived in this beautiful land.

A second trip for the project was conducted in August, 2013. The archaeological reconnaissance was concentrated around the Hay and Meander River and the community of Meander River. Again Taiga archaeologists along with Marc Stevenson, Perry Molton, and the students from the Meander and Bushe communities conducted the survey. The major focus was in areas near the community of Meander River. Two precontact archaeological sites were recorded, and locations of old Meander settlements on the west side of the Hay River were also visited. One of the precontact sites was of a major importance. Shovel testing programs conducted at the reserve with students from Meander and Bushe reserves revealed a stratified site located on the floodplain at the junction of the two major rivers that spans a long period of time, going back to precontact times with numerous artifacts from all periods.

Participating students learned how to excavate shovel tests, record information, clean and catalogue the artifacts, but more importantly, they discovered their own past first hand in the material remains left possibly by their own ancestors and were able to reconnect with their own cultural heritage.

The last part of this project was also conducted at Bistcho Lake. In the first days, Taiga archaeologists conducted tests at Indians Cabins and Jackfish Point locations. Both areas revealed large, precontact campsites of high archaeological significance, particularly at Jackfish Point where historic traces of the old settlement were found above the remains of the prehistoric campsites. One special find at this site was a small side-notched projectile point (arrowhead). This very small artifact, crudely made of chert, could be a toy arrowhead, which is a rare find.
The project initiated by the First Nation of Dene Tha’ was one of the first of its kind in northern Alberta and unique in the way it involved youth (with the presence of elders) from the Chateh, Bushe, and Meander communities to reconnect them with their own past and heritage and showed them how old, interesting, and rich it was. Preliminary archaeological research was conducted in areas never or rarely investigated and gave another opportunity for the Dene Tha’ to show how strong their ties are to this land and its past, providing an opportunity to shed new light on the prehistory of this part of Alberta and the great archaeological potential of the area for the future.