Archeologists sharing discoveries with tours

By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Winnipeg Sun

Researchers in southwestern Manitoba continue to work on an archeological project to learn more about how Indigenous farmers lived and worked before Europeans arrived on Canadian soil, and they are now inviting the public to come and join them as they continue that work.

Officials with Brandon University (BU) said that a university-led team of researchers is continuing to learn about the lives of pre-contact Indigenous farmers, as part of its multi-year investigation near Melita, a community located about 320 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg.

The project involves archaeologists from BU and from the Manitoba Archaeological Society (MAS) conducting research in archeological sites in the Pierson Wildlife Management Area (WMA) on what are Treaty 2 lands.

Those lands are the traditional homelands of the Dakota, Anishanabek, Ojibway-Cree, Cree, Dene and Métis peoples, and the project is exploring how Indigenous people and farmers lived and worked in southwestern Manitoba before the arrival of Europeans.

The project was first conceived in 2018 after the discovery of farming tools south of Melita along a creek bank which were used to cultivate crops and were made from bison shoulder blades.

Since 2019, researchers, along with BU and University of Manitoba students have been doing excavations in the area that have uncovered numerous historical findings, including a workshop where pre-contact activities would have included the making of tools from the bones of bison, deer, wolf, beaver and goose, as well as a residential area where people lived and made stone tools and used pottery.

The team of researchers now wants to share its work and its findings with the public, as public archaeology site tours will be held from July 22-25 and those who take part in a tour will have the opportunity to help archaeologists excavate the site.

Tools made from modified bison ribs found near Melita in 2020, as part of a multi-year archeological investigation, are seen in this photo. – Alicia Gooden/Brandon University

According to BU Department of Anthropology Professor Dr. Mary Malainey, the project has shown how pre-contact Indigenous farmers worked and has also shown how they chose to set up areas where people and families lived.

“Our work shows that the pre-contact Indigenous farmers made tools and grew crops in the valley, but built their homes on the prairie level,” Malainey said in a release.

“This residential pattern was common among pre-contact Indigenous farmers. On hot days, cool breezes on the prairie level offer welcome relief from the sweltering heat of the valley.”

According to BU, Amber Flett, the team’s Indigenous Engagement Liaison, has contacted and consulted with First Nations communities in the region about the project and its goals.

Site tour information is available on the MAS website at