ArchaeoCafé Podcast – Episode 2-15 – Archaeology and Missing Children: An interview with Eldon Yellowhorn

hosted by Otis Crandell

In this episode I talk with Eldon Yellowhorn about the Missing Children Project and his use of archaeology in this project. We also discuss calls to action in the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Canada) which are particularly relevant to archaeology, and we discuss the various ways that history can be recorded, revealed and retold.

Listen to this episode online:



Some useful terminology and links

Indian Residential Schools system (Canada)
A network of boarding schools for Indigenous peoples. Between 1831 and 1996, residential schools operated in Canada through funding by the Canadian government’s Department of Indian Affairs and administration by Christian churches. Attendance was mandatory from 1894 to 1947. The school system was created to isolate Indigenous children from the influence of their own native culture and religion in order to assimilate them into the dominant Canadian culture. The number of school-related deaths remains unknown due to incomplete records. Estimates range from 3,200 to over 30,000.
Note: “Indian” has been used here because of the historical nature of the subject and is limited here to proper nouns and references to government legislation. The term was, and continues to be, used by government officials, Indigenous peoples and historians while referencing the school system. Its use also provides relevant context about the era in which the system was established, specifically one in which Indigenous peoples in Canada were homogeneously referred to as “Indians” rather than by language that distinguishes First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC)
A truth and reconciliation commission active in Canada from 2008 to 2015, organized by the parties of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The TRC provided those directly or indirectly affected by the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools system with an opportunity to share their stories and experiences.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action
In June 2015, the TRC released a summary report of its findings and “94 Calls to Action” to “redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.”

Missing Children Project
The Missing Children Project documents the deaths and the burial places of children who died while attending residential schools.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)
A legally non-binding resolution passed by the United Nations in 2007. It delineates and defines the individual and collective rights of Indigenous peoples, including their ownership rights to cultural and ceremonial expression, identity, language, employment, health, education, and other issues. The goal of the declaration is to encourage countries to work alongside indigenous peoples to solve global issues, such as development, multicultural democracy, and decentralization.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)
An international human rights treaty which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children.


Selected reading and viewing

Digging up the Rez: The Piikani Historical Archaeology Project
by Eldon Yellowhorn, and graduate student researchers, Sandie Dielissen, Simon Solomon, and Kristina Hannis

Powwow: Copylefting Cultural Tradition
by Eldon Yellowhorn

What the Eagle Sees: Indigenous Stories of Rebellion and Renewal
by Eldon Yellowhorn and Kathy Lowinger
published by Annick Press in 2019. 120 pages.

Turtle Island: The Story of North America’s First People
by Eldon Yellowhorn and Kathy Lowinger
published by Annick Press in 2017. 116 pages.

Just Methods, No Madness: Historical Archaeology on the Piikani First Nation
by Eldon Yellowhorn
in the book “Ethics and Archaeological Praxis” edited by Cristóbal Gnecco and Dorothy Lippert. p. 245-256
published by Springer in 2015.

The Evolving Relationship Between Archaeologists and First Nations
by Eldon Yellowhorn
Canadian Journal of Archaeology, 2000, Vol. 24(2): p. 162-164

Brave new digs: Archaeology and Aboriginal people in British Columbia, Canada
by Eldon Yellowhorn
The Canadian Journal of Native Studies, 2012, Vol 32(1): p. 87-99


About Eldon Yellowhorn

Dr. Yellowhorn (whose Piikani name is Otahkotskina) is from the Piikani First Nation. His early career in archaeology began in southern Alberta where he studied the ancient cultures of the plains. He completed undergraduate degrees in physical geography (BS, 1983) and archaeology (BA, 1986) at the University of Calgary and later graduate degrees in archaeology at Simon Fraser University (MA, 1993) and anthropology at McGill University (PhD, 2002). He was appointed to faculty at Simon Fraser University in 2002 (where he currently teaches archaeology and First Nations studies) and established the Department of First Nations Studies in 2012. He teaches courses dedicated to chronicling the experience of Aboriginal people across Canada. He was president of the Canadian Archaeological Association from 2010 to 2012, the first Aboriginal person elected to this position. His research has examined the northern plains, and the ancient lifeways of his Piikani ancestors. His main interest is the evolution of communal hunting from the early Holocene to the nineteenth century when this custom was rendered obsolete with the extinction of the bison herds. He augmented his research of material culture with Piikani oral narratives. He is a native speaker of the Blackfoot language and is working to preserve it and ensure it has a future.




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