(Canadian Press)

Ancient Indigenous settlement to become outdoor classroom in North Cowichan

Bordered by 500-year-old Garry Oaks and Somenos Creek, the area was slated for development in 1990s

Near the foot of sacred Mount Prevost where Indigenous people say their ancestors first landed on earth lays buried a 2,000-year-old settlement with archeological evidence of ancient tools, homes, hearths and grave sites.

The Ye’yumnuts village near Duncan, is about to become a living Indigenous history lesson where the local school district will use the 2.4-hectare meadow as a place-based classroom.

The area, bordered by 500-year-old Garry Oaks, the meandering Somenos Creek and upscale suburban homes, was slated for a private residential development in the 1990s. But work stopped with the discovery of dozens of human skeletons, some curled in fetal positions and included mothers and their children, archeologists said.

Two elementary schools and a middle school are within walking distance of the village site and the Cowichan Valley School District has plans for field trips and projects with the elders of the Cowichan Tribes to bring a sense of time, place and reality to Indigenous relations classes that are now part of the school curriculum.

“Ancient Greece is kind of academic and far away and a different place,” said school district superintendent Rod Allen, standing in the shade of trees near the creek. “This is right in your backyard, and we live here. That’s what makes it so totally amazing.”

Even though the once thriving settlement is currently covered with soil and tall grasses, the story of what lies beneath the ground and its connection to history and people of today provides realistic experiences for students, he said.

“It’s a much more enabling, open-ended curriculum now which allows for place-based learning like this, which is just unbelievably authentic,” said Allen. “Kids buy into that. It’s not library work. It’s out in the community and it’s work that matters.”

Dianne Hinkley, the land research director for the Cowichan Tribes, said the ground at the Ye’yumnuts settlement had been the subject of almost 25 years of struggle between private developers, governments and the Cowichan people who wanted the burial area protected.

The land was finally protected in a deal involving the B.C. and federal governments, but it wasn’t until about two years ago when Hinkley started talking with Brian Thom, an Indigenous culture anthropology professor at the University of Victoria, that the idea formed to use the site as an education tool.

“Our boys were in the same class together and we went for the parent-teacher conference thing and Brian got hold of me afterwards and said, ‘Did you see that, they were studying Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome and Ancient Egypt,’ ” said Hinkley.

She said she went back to the teacher and asked: “What about Ancient Cowichan? That question got us started in getting involved with the schools.”

Thom, who worked on the original archeology dig at the Ye’yumnuts settlement during the 1990s, said the site is more than 2,000 years old and it’s estimated the Cowichan lived there for 600 years, then used the area as a large burial ground for another 600 years.

“This is the domestic space,” he said. “This is where people were really living here, eating their foods, bringing things in from the ocean, hunting ducks, getting fish from the creek,” Thom said.

Of the almost 500 artifacts found at the settlement, some reveal how far the Cowichan travelled to trade goods, which included dried clams and dried Blue Kamis plants, a starchy local food staple, Thom said.

He said a sharp cutting blade found at the settlement originated from polished rock that archeologists discovered came from a volcano in central Oregon. Jade tools that originated from the Fraser Canyon, 600 kilometres away, were also found at the site.

“Here we have physical evidence of the extensiveness of Cowichan trade networks,” said Thom.

Rosanna Jackson, the school district’s Aboriginal curriculum co-ordinator, said Ye’yumnuts will build partnerships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities.

“Something like this is the natural balance where the Cowichan people are helping the teachers understand what does it look like to come in,” she said. “What does it look like to be a partner since we all live here, work here, breath here, play here.”

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Renovated Lake Cowichan town hall will include emergency operations centre

Upgrade project expected to be complete within months

Business notes: Realtors raise $10,000 for Nourish Cowichan

The latest from Cowichan’s business community

North Cowichan mayor answers questions about new RCMP detachment

The current building went up in 1980, when there were 30 people working there.

B.C. Supreme Court dismisses claim against Island Corridor Foundation

Snaw-Naw-As (Nanoose) First Nation was seeking return of reserve land as railway sits unused

13 new B.C. COVID-19 cases, Langley Lodge outbreak ends

Health care outbreaks down to four, 162 cases active

Two injured hikers airlifted from North Vancouver Island Park

Campbell River and Comox Search and Rescue hoist team rescued the injured from Cape Scott Provincial Park

Alberta health minister orders review into response after noose found in hospital in 2016

A piece of rope tied into a noose was found taped to the door of an operating room at the Grande Prairie Hospital in 2016

B.C.’s major rivers surge, sparking flood warnings

A persistent low pressure system over Alberta has led to several days of heavy rain

B.C.’s Indigenous rights law faces 2020 implementation deadline

Pipeline projects carry on as B.C. works on UN goals

‘Mind boggling’: B.C. man $1 million richer after winning Lotto 6/49 a second time

David O’Brien hopes to use his winnings to travel and of course keep playing the lottery

B.C. teacher loses licence after sexual relationships with two recently-graduated students

The teacher won’t be allowed to apply for a teaching certificate until 2035

Lower Mainland teacher facing child pornography charges

Elazar Reshef, 52, has worked in the Delta School District

Most Read