Sifting through time

06.26.2023 Danielle Harrison Culture, Chachalu Tribal Museum & Cultural Center
Logan Kneeland, 12, looks at a rock as he sifts dirt removed from an archaeological test unit while participating in a dig during archaeology camp held at Chachalu Museum & Cultural Center on Thursday, June 22. In the background, Dandez Lopez, 12, sorts dirt as well. (Photo by Michelle Alaimo)

By Danielle Harrison

Smoke Signals assistant editor/staff writer

When asked what she enjoyed most about archaeology camp, 13-year-old Satara Blanchard didn’t hesitate.

“I like digging in the dirt, getting dirty and not having anyone judge you for doing it,” Blanchard said. “You can have a lot of fun when you’re doing it, too. You’re finding things, looking for old things. You also meet a lot of nice people who also like digging.”

Blanchard was one of several youth who attended the four-day camp, which culminated in a public archaeology day on Friday, June 23.

The camp was coordinated by staff at Chachalu Museum & Cultural Center, Historic Preservation, Youth Enrichment, Youth Education and Youth Prevention. Youths spent the week excavating a site in what once was downtown Grand Ronde, now home to Chachalu.

Cultural Protection Specialist Chris Bailey said the camp was designed to spark an interest in young Tribal members to become more engaged with their culture and perhaps consider archaeology as a future career.

“There aren’t enough Indigenous people involved in this career field, so getting kids excited about this may help them become more engaged with our program,” Bailey said. “I say this is my way of finding my future replacement. There’s a real demand for Indigenous archaeologists and it’s good to provide an opportunity for kids to explore this career.”

Several youth, ranging in ages from 11 to 14, spent the week digging holes, called archaeological test units, and then carefully sifting through the dirt, searching for different clues in the metal, glass and stone that could tell a story about the past.

Satara Blanchard, 13, removes dirt from an archaeological test unit while participating in a dig during archaeology camp held at Chachalu Museum & Cultural Center on Thursday, June 22. The dirt will be sifted to look for artifacts in it. Digging with her is Kayden Zimmer, 14, who is a youth intern. (Photo by Michelle Alaimo)

The youths also spent time processing cedar bark and looking at historic photos of the areas, as well as developing presentations on obsidian, berries and fires for the public archaeology day.

“The kids will be available to talk to the public about their projects and it’s important to teach them how to do this,” Bailey said. ‘They’ll get to meet with archaeologists and some of our collections staff will have tables set up, too.”

Tribal Archaeologist Jeremey Johnson has been helping the youths with techniques during the excavation process

“I’ve been training the kids on technique and methods of doing excavations in a scientific manner, and how to screen as well and what to do with things we may find,” he said.

So far, they’ve unearthed a number of historic bricks, nails and glass.

“All the kids have wanted to dig and screen, and get into the dirt and get into things,” Johnson said. “It’s been really good. We’re hoping we spark a passion in one or two of the kids because it’s very important to have the Tribal community continue the exploration of Tribal culture and history. I’m hoping we at least get them interested in these aspects, so we can continue Tribal learning through the generations.”

Aaron King, 12, said he enjoyed being outdoors and meeting others who were interested in exploring the past.

“I like finding the glass and nails, and sifting and screening,” he said. “It’s really fun, a great workout and everyone here is really great.”

Bailey said he is hoping the youth leave the camp having had a positive experience, even if they decide archaeology isn’t for them.

“Even if they don’t want to do it as a career, the hope is that this is something they will remember forever,” he said.