Exploring Métis Identity Through Archaeology (EMITA)

The EMITA project seeks to explore how Métis identity can be seen in the past, asking questions about the connections between people's identities and patterns within the material traces they leave behind. Archaeologists approach material culture and landscape analyses in unique ways that allow for the exploration of the differences and similarities between the historical record and the material record of the day-to-day lives of past peoples. Thus far, our research has focused on a particular type of 19th century site, known as "overwintering" or hivernant sites, locations where Métis families would have built cabins and spent the winter hunting bison. By combining new archaeological data from Métis over-wintering settlements with ongoing historical, geographic, and archival research at the University of Alberta, we examine the archaeological record to test how Métis patterns can be distinguished from settler or First Nations material culture and use of space, and highlight the importance of geographic and kinship-based mobility during the fur trade as a defining characteristic of a Métis cultural landscape. Over the past several summers, we have used non-destructive techniques, including site mapping, GIS analysis, and remote sensing, as well as targeted excavations of site locations, to collect data on these important Métis places.

The land rights of the Métis in Canada remain an unresolved issue in the early part of the 21st century. Our collaborative approach means our research is informed by issues of relevance to contemporary Metis community members and designed to provide data that will help communities connect to their history in new ways. As such, we have developed strong relationships with the Métis Nation of Alberta and the Métis community in Saskatchewan. We are currently working on combining archaeological data with digitally stored archival and historical information to explore where, when, and how the Métis Nation created a Métis cultural landscape that connected different geographic realms of the western Canadian interior, and investigating how the recognition of these geographies could impact modern legal contexts.

Ongoing EMITA projects include the archaeological investigation of the Chimney Coulee Site (DjOe-6) in Southern Saskatchewan, and the development of an online Métis Archaeology Database. This research is funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, as well as, the Kule Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Alberta.

IPIA Scholars and volunteers excavating at the Chimney Coulee Métis Overwintering Site in Southern Saskatchewan

Principle Investigator: Dr. Kisha Supernant (Link to IPIA Director page)

Key Publications:
Supernant, Kisha. "Archaeology of the Métis." Oxford Handbooks Online.  January 11, 2018. Oxford University Press. Date of access 23 Jul. 2020, <https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199935413.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199935413-e-70>

Supernant, Kisha. 2017 "Modeling Métis mobility? Evaluating least cost paths and indigenous landscapes in the Canadian west." Journal of Archaeological Science 84: 63-73. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2017.05.006