On location with APTN’s Wild Archaeology

Inside the longhouse at Kayanase, Six Nations

In July of 2017, I caught up with the cast and crew of APTN’s Wild Archaeology while they were shooting Season 2 episodes in Southern Ontario. The day I arrived on set, hosts Dr. Rudy Reimer, Jenifer Brousseau and Jacob Pratt were on location at the Longhouse in Ohsweken, Six Nations. Despite the humidity Southern Ontario summers are known for, inside this structure there was a cool breeze and if I could bottle the scent of sun warmed freshly hewn lumber, I would be the happiest of campers on earth!

I decided to speak with co-host Jacob Pratt first.

How has the show surprised you?
Jacob Pratt: I always thought the show was aimed at an older audience, late teens and older. But from what I have seen, a lot of kids aged 8-10 are really into the show. They have been really engaged by it. I think that is really surprising for me because it is expanding the intended viewership, not just older teens but a very young audience which is really cool to see.

(l-r) Getting furry with Jenifer, Brousseau, Dr. Rudy Reimer and Jacob Pratt

And, how have you surprised yourself?
I think they wanted me on the show because of my cultural understanding, and I have a good understanding of my own culture [Dakota], but I know about the Cree, and the Haudenosawnee because I have lived in the areas. So in general, I feel very competent about knowing other First Nations cultures. But, throughout last season, I was actually surprised with the number of similarities about other nations that I didn’t know about and the absolute ignorance I had in terms of the Inuit or the Inuvialuit and things like the whale blubber. It was really interesting. That was a surprise too: I never thought I would like whale blubber, but I do, especially with HP Sauce. There are things like that. I always thought I was very culturally aware but I keep finding things that are brand new, that surprise me.

For me, this is a journey of adding to my cultural understanding and  actually that is one of my passions, learning about other people’s cultures  because it makes me a more understanding person in my life in general. I really, really liked learning the things that I would never have imagined like here in Ontario. Stories that tell how long ago the Great Lakes were lower and then a beaver dam broke and they filled up very quickly. Now scientists are talking about how the lake levels were much lower and, 60 feet down, there are caribou runs. They talk about when that water did fill up, it filled up very quickly. For me, it was amazing hearing these traditional stories I have always heard, then hearing these stories that unknowingly scientists are backing up these stories. It is really giving weight to our oral history. Because scientists are now telling the stories that we have been telling for thousands of years. That to me is I think what hit me the most during Season 1.

Next, I sat down with show creator, producer, writer, Tracy German, to get a feel for what we can expect this season.

Dr. Rudy, Jenifer, and Jacob (not shown) being graded on their rope-making skills by Kerdo Deer of Kayanase

Your message in Season 1 was very clear: take the oral histories from various nations and verify that history through archaeological discovery. Moving forward into Season 2, how are your expanding upon that theme?
Tracy German: Moving on in Season 2, we are going to continue doing what we do well. So, yes, we still connect the stories to real people and culture. We start with the inspiration from an oral teaching from an elder and then try to find the link to the archaeological record. In Season 2, we plan to incorporate more experimental archaeology. Like we just saw in the Longhouse, Kerdo Deer of Kayanase was demonstrating the traditional rope making. It is another form of reclamation and it is about learning the use of traditional medicines and plants and techniques. I think we will be going further into that in Season 2, and I hope we will be getting a bit more political or edgier as we move forward; pushing into ideas of repatriation and sacredness. Topics like #noDAPL and water; there are so many avenues. Gas and fracking, whatever, there are multiple fronts where we can act as activists for Indigenous people. When opportunities like that arise naturally and organically, and we can contribute to the cause, we will definitely be incorporating that into our storytelling. This season, I am starting with my journey, as a woman and where I am from. This is my home turf – Six Nations and my ancestry on my mother’s side is Haudenosawnee. We are starting in the Longhouse in a matriarchal culture. Already that is starting out political. And our camera operator in there, Jon Elliott, is Tuscarora and his family is from here. There are always multiple reasons why we start where we do but I do like telling the strong matriarchal story and I think that will come out in the grandmothers and the teachings of the strong womenfolk across the country.

I also had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Rudy Reimer, Ph.D., of Simon Fraser University.

Wiring Dr. Rudy for sound before the shoot begins (I LOVED how the sunlight was streaming into the longhouse here)

How has this experience, as a teacher, as a professor, influenced your life in academia?
Dr. Rudy Reimer: That’s a good question. Filming and being on the set of WA is a really interesting experience in terms of personally looking at the archaeology across Canada. When I lecture, some things are a little abstract and having the opportunity to come to places like Six Nations here, and other locations, allows me to put what I have read into context and more appropriately getting to experience the local First Nations first-hand, talking to community members, getting their perspective, and their history as opposed to what you would get in a standard textbook. What that allows me to do is integrate that into how I teach and lecture, but also it has been beneficial at another level. Each episode is pretty much the equivalent to a publication, and it really helps me professionally. Personally interacting with my crew and interacting with my co-hosts, still being in the role of an educator, for each episode makes for a great experience all around.

What are you most looking forward to this season?
This season, we are here in Ontario for two episodes and then we are back on the west coast. I believe we are going to Sechelt, B.C., and then to northern British Columbia. It doesn’t matter where we go, because I look forward to each set and each episode. It is really fun to arrive because I know the archaeologists, I know their research, and what is really exciting for me is, again, to see that first hand, and to interact with my colleagues, fellow academics but also, people in the communities. For example, we are at the lacrosse games yesterday during North American Indigenous Games 2017, and just sitting in the stands talking to the local community. I wore a t-shirt with some Squamish words on it and I got some funny looks but then people come up and talk to you. Everyone is wearing local lacrosse jerseys or t-shirts, so it is a cultural experience and an academic experience at each location.

Finally, I caught up with co-host Jenifer Brousseau and followed up with a theme we touched on last season when I last spoke with her.

Selfie time!

When we last spoke, you discussed your experiences in both the Longhouse in the B.C. interior and the teepee at Head-Smashed-In with Reg Crowshoe. In Season 2 you have spent some time in the Longhouse at the Museum of Archaeology in London, Ont., and now this amazing structure here at Kayanase. How are these experiences in these structures weaving into the fabric of your own personal journey of reclamation?
Jenifer Brousseau: I find coming here really neat because when I come home to Ontario and connect to the land here, it is always so very different. I personally feel that a lot of my reclamation has happened on the West Coast. If you ever go to the West Coast and connect with the people there, you recognize how proud they are as a people to be Indigenous. I experienced a lot less of that growing up in Ontario. Now coming back and having the opportunity to go to the Aanishnawbeg Longhouse in London—which is closer to my own heritage—and learning things [I did not while] growing up is a journey. Going to the big house on the West Coast as opposed to the Longhouse here it is almost like getting to be a part of things here that were initially lost. Having spent time in the west, reclaiming parts of my identity to return home to start Season 2 and learning about all of these things that for me at home were covered as I grew up, I get to uncover them both on the show. That is what is so fabulous about my journey this upcoming season.

My thanks go to Tracy German for allowing me the opportunity to visit your set. And to Jacob, Dr. Rudy and Jenifer, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Miigwetch.

Wild Archaeology returns Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on APTN.

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