The Cree Regional Authority and Niskamoon have begun a program called the Boumhounan Archeology and Cultural Heritage program. Under the Boumhounan agreement, Hydro-Quebec has been assisting them in an archeological search for ancient artifacts. The sum of $2.5 million will be distributed by Niskamoon over a period of seven years to help Cree people discover some of their land’s hidden treasures.

All the areas that will soon be affected by the diversion of the Rupert River will be closely examined. Archeologists have been curious about the area for the past six years, but always limited their search to above the location where the dam will be built. This year the Cree people of the surrounding communities had a meeting and decided they wanted to know what could be found south of the diversion location, a decision they haven’t regretted. Now, Elders from that area are being interviewed and filmed in order to record not only the land’s physical aspects but its stories and legends.

The CRA has gathered Cree youth from Waskaganish, Nemaska and Mistissini for help. Niskamoon is making sure that these young people have the proper training and are assisted by professional archeologists and tallymen. “We are including all the communities that will be affected by the Rupert diversion,” said Jamie Stevens from the CRA in Nemaska.

Similarly, in 2003, young people and Elders from different communities gathered together before the land around the Eastmain River was flooded. They traveled with archeologists and learned how to search their land for artifacts. An interesting film made by Jean-Guillaume Caplain called Twilight of a Land, follows these young people on their journey showing them finding arrowheads and ancient fireplaces all the while being taught and guided from the archeologists and the Elders.

Right now they are digging 50-X-50 cms holes which they call tests pits, looking up the places where the Elders and tallymen lived centuries ago. Hydro-Quebec is working on its own archeology sites in partnership with Niskamoon and together they have found everything from arrowheads to stone chips, ceramic, red ochre and even pictographs that were made with a mix of ochre, bear grease and egg yolk. Also found and tested were some pieces of charcoal, enabling archeologists to go back as far as 4000 years ago!

Two different kinds of quartzite have been discovered as well – the James Bay lowland quartzite and the Mistassini quartzite. What is interesting about this is that the Mistassini quartzite can only be found at a place people call “Collines Blanche” which is around Temiscamie River, east of Mistassini Lake and would have been impossible to flow down the Rupert River or be moved by nature. This has made archeologists believe that the quartzite was brought there by people, perhaps by trade between the Cree, similar to the trade that was done with the Europeans years later.

Another important discovery was traces of ceramic. “So far we’ve found evidence that leads us to believe that the people of the North may have made pottery, this introduces a totally new element into the history of northern Amerindian peoples,” commented an archeologist working at the Rupert jobsite for Hydro-Quebec.

In the beginning of the searches, ceramic was found and proved to have been made by the Iroquois people from the St. Lawrence Valley or other locations. Now though, it has been proven that other traces of ceramic had been made on site, most likely by the Cree people themselves.

Stevens found it important to underline the reasons why the Cree people of the surrounding communities are finding it so essential to study the area. “Everyone is focused on the dam,” she said “the land is not being bothered with. After the dam is built, the land will never be the same; the environment around the Rupert River will change. That is why we are doing it now.” Andre Burroughs from the Hydro-Quebec office in Montreal agrees with Stevens. “There are zones that will have its trees cut down, others that will be flooded. This is why we are doing this now, to record history before it disappears.” Some of the artifacts are being kept at the Rupert Camp under supervision of the government. Whether you are Cree or not, those who have the chance should go and see what people of long ago left behind for us to learn from.