Student excavator now heads Metepenagiag Heritage Park

Posted on September 17, 2007
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                                                                                                                                                                                                   Metepenagiag Heritage Park – ©Nelson Cloud

          In the summer of 1984, powerful emotions washed over a raven-haired young Mi’kmaq woman as she stared at a few bones in her hand. She realized, for the first time, her connection to ancient traditions and culture and ancestors who had lived on the same spot for 3000 years.

          She was working as a summer student on the last of a series of exploratory digs in her community near Red Bank, known to the Mi’kmaq as Metepenagiag. An archeologist had just explained to her that the bones she had found were sturgeon, a staple fish of the villagers’ diet in ancient times.

          Her ancestors went out onto the water at night with torches and spears. The sturgeon would be attracted to the light and speared. Male sturgeon grow up to six feet in length and 100 lbs. Females can reach 15 feet long and weigh as much as 800 lbs. They have armour plate rather than scales.

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          The bones she had found came from one such nighttime hunt. Imagine the battles that took place on those torch-lit nights.

          “I held those bones in my hand and realized I was part of something ancient to be proud of,” she says.

          Band member, Joe Augustine, had triggered the archeological interest. In 1972, he saw pictures in a magazine article that led him to believe the local mounds he had wondered about for years were ancient burial sites.

          In 1992, the same young woman who had worked on the dig, now a very young band councilor, was one of the members to sign off on the decision to do a feasibility study for a heritage park project.

          On August 22 of this year, that same woman, Pam Ward, now Executive Director of Metepenagiag Heritage Park Incorporated, welcomed the first tourists to a spectacular, hi-tech, $7.2 million dollar centre dedicated to the preservation, protection and presentation of the community’s heritage.

          Metepanagiag is the home of not one but two National Historic Sites. One is the Augustine Mounds. The other is Oxbow, the “Village of 30 Centuries.” The current residents and their ancestors have lived in Oxbow continuously for at least 3,000 years.

          The park is be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week and holidays.

          For visitors, a highlight is a 20-minute video presentation surrounding the audience and on the floor. It tells a story of a homecoming from a trading mission to the Ohio and a budding romance.

          There are also trail walks, replicas, and the opportunity to observe continuing research.

          “We are hoping visits will average two hours,” says Ward.

          The Park facilities are also available for meetings and conferences.

          In addition to the interest from visitors from far and wide, Ward says she hopes Metepanagiag Heritage Park will help young Mi’kmaq develop a healthy pride in their people and past.

          “You need to know where you come from to know where you’re going,” she says.


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