We recently spoke with the co-organizers of the Old Town project, Spencer Greening and Dana Lepofsky. Here is some insight they offered about the project and Old Town Community Day.
What is your role working in Old Town?
Dana: I am one of the co-organizers (with Spencer Greening) of the Old Town project. This is a multi-year project whose goal is to tell the ecological and cultural history of the Quaal watershed by bringing together oral traditions, memories, archaeology, ecology, and geology.
Spencer: I guess my role is to record stories and knowledge for the benefit of our community. I hope to achieve several things with my work. First and foremost, reinvigorate the passion for traditional knowledge, language, and spirit that Old Town encompassed for our ancestors. I hope in my lifetime I can help with Old Town becoming a protected area where our people are able to ensure environmental protection and the ability to live as we always have there. And finally, to continue to grow and learn about myself and my own identity by working with the land.
Please tell us a bit about Old Town.
Dana: When I think of Old Town, I think of the whole watershed, not just the village site. The whole watershed has changed dramatically over the 12,000 years for which we have information. In the last 2000 years, there were several large settlements along the bay. The more recent houses of Old Town are built on these ancient houses.
Spencer: When I think of Old Town I think of the socio-political heart of the Gitk’a’ata people. Thousands of years of existence, knowledge, spirit, and life all tied into the land. It is hard for me to simply talk about Old Town, it is a feeling, a sense of belonging and connection that I hope all our people can experience someday.
What did the team plan for Community Day, how did it go?
Dana: It was such a great day. Many of the community members (kids and adults) who visited had never been to Old Town before — or never visited it to that extent.
After a welcome by Cam Hill and then Spencer Greening and Dana Lepofsky, we started digging potatoes. We planted these potatoes in June, under Betty Lou’s guidance of how and where No’os planted her garden in Old Town. The last garden planted by No’os was probably about 50 years ago. The harvest was wonderful and we later ate those potatoes and distributed them around the community in Hartley Bay and in Rupert…some kids fished while others toured the old village, learning about the archaeology there. Others got a tour by Justin Dundas of the standing houses, including a history of the beautiful beams in the house.
The whole day was filmed by the project videographer, Mark Wunsch. The footage from the day will be part of the Old Town interactive web site that is being constructed with information gained from this project.
We look forward to more community visits this next spring/summer.
Spencer: The day went great, With the help of the Guardians, we had the school out and were able to talk to students about some of the history, research, and knowledge of Old Town…We also dug up our gardens and had a feast prepared by Stan Robinson consisting of traditional food often eaten in Old Town, ideally in the future we will get more students and Elders out to share knowledge, stories, and a good meal.
What are your plans for the future?
Dana: Oh gosh, so many plans… to expand the archaeology to find more old sites, including doing a small excavation on Man Made Island so we can better understand its history. Team member Bryn Letham will lead the work to figure out how the level of the sea has changed over the last 12,000 years. Thanks to Bryn, we now know that sea level used to be higher and the ocean shoreline used to be at the head of the Quaal Inlet 12,000 years ago. Our preliminary results suggests that this is where the first peoples of the Old Town watershed lived. As sea level dropped, the people moved towards the current settlement, following the sea. That is why the settlements in the current bay are not older than 2-3000 years. That is, before then the bay was further inland, when the sea was higher and older settlements will be somewhere along the area where the river is today. It’s confusing! but, we’ll figure it out.
We will also continue to map the crab apple orchards and continue with our pruning experiment in the hopes of reviving the orchards. They are such an important food source for the community.
Oh yes, and we’ll continue to map the wonderful wooden fish trap that Spencer found on the tidal flat. So far, we have mapped about 1000 ancient stakes, the tops of which are just barely sticking out of the mud. We will be figuring out how old the trap is in the coming weeks by sending a sample of the wooden stakes to a laboratory for radiocarbon dating.
There’s lots more to share, and we’re hoping to do a community presentation this winter to fill people in!
Spencer: My hope is to see more community members in Old Town. It would be great to see more community members staying there, getting their winter supply of food there, and reconnecting with the place that we all have ancestral ties to. I hope to see the children get excited for Old Town like they do for Kiel, our Spring camp.
As for research, we want to keep talking to our Elders and get them out there, this has been hard due to weather and having capacity for boats. But we will keep trying.
Old Town is one of many sites in our territory in which we practice continual use. Events like community day and the homes built there show that the area is not only a part of our history but also our future. If you have any other areas or projects you’d like to read more about please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/gitgaattreaty