As we celebrate Heritage Week in Canada and reflect on where we live and who has come before us, we are excited to highlight Tse’k’wa, an incredibly important First Nations archaeological site in our province.
Indigenous cultural heritage is everywhere in B.C., we see it in the landscapes and the archeological items found there, and in the stories, songs, arts, languages and cultural practices that are carried on today for future generations.
In partnership with the First Peoples’ Cultural Foundation (the Foundation), FPCC is proud to support the work that is happening across B.C. to protect and revitalize First Nations cultural heritage.
Tse’k’wa – Rock House
Tse’k’wa (‘rock house’ in Dane-zaa, formerly known as Charlie Lake Cave) is a designated national historic site, managed by the Tse’k’wa Heritage Society (Doig River First Nation, West Moberly First Nations and Prophet River First Nation) in Fort St. John, B.C. It is in the territory of Treaty 8 and the Dane-Zaa speaking people. It is a significant spiritual site and one of the oldest known archaeological sites in the province, providing evidence of human settlement that dates back to the glacial period over 12,500 years ago.
In 2021, the Society received an Indigenous Cultural Heritage Infrastructure Grant (ICHIG) from the Foundation. The funding supports the development of a cultural centre, an artifact repository, virtual reality exhibits, interpretive spaces and new trails to improve access. The improvements are happening on the five-acre property containing the cave site and will enhance information sharing and accessibility so the Society can welcome more visitors, both in-person and online. FPCC staff are providing support as the Society completes the projects from 2021 through to 2023.
Doig River Councilor and Society President Garry Oker is excited to see the investment in infrastructure to support the site. He notes that Indigenous cultural heritage is not widely known or understood and receives less public recognition and support than settler heritage sites. There is so much he wants to share about his people, their history and cultural connections:
“We have tens of thousands of artifacts, so many that when people actually understand the extent of these artifacts they are going to be blown away because there are so many of them in one geographic location,” says Garry. “So Tse’k’wa is really at ground zero because that’s the oldest evidence of artifacts and they tie us to the larger Dene history and culture. We are just looking forward to continuous support in making this place a world-class destination.”
Protecting the Past for the Future
Many Indigenous cultural heritage sites and activities are facing multiple threats from climate change, wildfires, industrial development, public infrastructure projects and human activity. Intangible cultural heritage – including songs, stories and traditions – is also threatened by the continued impacts of colonialism. Indigenous-led infrastructure projects return the management of cultural heritage to First Nations communities and organizations like the Tse’k’wa Heritage Society, an important step in protecting this legacy for generations.
The Tse’k’wa project was funded through the first-ever heritage infrastructure program for FPCC and the Foundation, and the impacts of the investment are already notable. Alyssa Currie, Executive Director of the Tse’k’wa Heritage Society, credits the funding from the Foundation as instrumental in attracting more support for their project.
“The funding the Society received from the Foundation has been an incredible catalyst for us,” says Alyssa. “We have made use of the funds to start the infrastructure work, but it has also allowed us to demonstrate confidence to other funders, and that in turn has brought in additional grant dollars that were able to further build our organizational capacity and build up that infrastructure for everyone’s benefit.”
Restoring Cultural Heritage Management
The Indigenous Cultural Heritage Infrastructure Grant supports projects that are First Nations-led and creates opportunities for First Nations people to be the tellers of their own stories. Garry asserts that it is his peoples’ right to “use their language, their cultural heritage, their stories to connect back to these lands.” He also notes that the right to protect, control and maintain Indigenous cultural heritage is affirmed by the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples and requires significant long-term funding and support to exercise these rights.
The establishment of an artifact repository at Tse’k’wa makes it possible to protect the artifacts in their collection and creates opportunities for greater knowledge sharing, educational programs and the repatriation of items removed from the territory. The Society is currently working with multiple official repositories to repatriate items back to their collection.
“The artifacts that came from Indigenous communities and have been alienated from those communities through various systems,” says Alyssa. “To be able to bring those artifacts back under the care of the Indigenous people who created them is really vital to reconciliation.”
Garry and Alyssa love to share the stories and history of Tse’k’wa. If you would like to visit to learn more about this site and the Dene people, please contact the Tse’k’wa Heritage Society to book a visit. FPCC and the Foundation are honoured to support this work and we look forward to seeing the completed projects and how the site will continue to grow.
“Many thanks to First Peoples’ and other cultural heritage funding support that we have been getting.” Says Garry. “I’m very excited to take this national historical site and turn it into a destination resort for tourism and other educational activities.”
Recognizing Heritage Week in Canada
Places like Tse’k’wa hold stories from many generations. During Heritage Week (February 21-27), we encourage people to visit and support Indigenous heritage centres or sites. If you want to get involved, find out who is doing cultural heritage work for your Nation and see how you can support them. To learn more about the cultural heritage revitalization work happening in B.C., check out these community stories.
Funds for the 2021 recipients are delivered by the First Peoples’ Cultural Foundation through the Unique Heritage Infrastructure (UHI) grant, funded by the BC Heritage Branch. FPCC administers the program and provides ongoing project support to grant recipients. The funds for the 2022 recipients are delivered by FPCC and funded by the Foundation through the BC 150 Time Immemorial Fund, Ministry of Municipal Affairs.
The Tse’k’wa Heritage Society
To learn more about Indigenous cultural heritage check out the FPCC Policy Paper: Recognizing And Including Indigenous Cultural Heritage In B.C.
About the FPCC Heritage Program
About the First Peoples Cultural Foundation
Additional Indigenous cultural heritage papers and resources click here
Share Your Story!
Do you have a story about the work your community is doing to revitalize First Nations languages, cultural heritage and Indigenous arts in B.C.? We want to hear from you! Please send your story to firstname.lastname@example.org and check back as we post more stories about the good work being done across the province.
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