Signs of a once-thriving village of the W̱SÁNEĆ peoples are emerging at Agate Lane Park in Cordova Bay.
It’s 8 a.m. and a cool breeze flows through a tiny park in Cordova Bay where Roger Charlie is digging into his ancestors’ past. He is lying flat on the ground on the edge of a hole. Layers of soil reveal ash and fire-cracked rocks, shells and animal bones — and a large piece of elk antler that Charlie believes might have been used as a tool to move hot rocks in a cooking pit.
Charlie can envision people around a cooking hearth sharing salmon and venison. Signs of ȾEL¸IȽĆE (pronounced Tel-eech) — a once-thriving village of the W̱SÁNEĆ and Lekwungen-speaking peoples dating back more than 1,000 years — are emerging from deep in the ground at Agate Lane Park as a University of Victoria-led archaeological field school draws to a close.
Charlie is feeling the presence of those who came before him as he gently picks and brushes the soil two feet down.
“I’m feeling very close to my ancestors,” said the 54-year-old father and grandfather. This week, he said, he had a dream of a woman about his own age who was wandering the site looking for something lost, a sign he believes is encouragement to keep uncovering the past of the Tsawout and other Indigenous people on the south Island.
All two dozen diggers — professors, graduate students and PhD candidates — have ochre smears under their eyes called TEMEL (pronounced Tem-uth) to protect them from bad spirits or feelings as they work, according to Coast Salish tradition. “Only when we are finished do we wash it away,” Charlie said.
The findings, which include slate fishing knives, fire pits, shell middens, sophisticated fish hooks, harpoon armaments and food remains such as sea lion, deer and elk bones, are evidence of a long-lasting village site that supported a large population.
A team from Washington State University used ground-penetrating radar to map the Agate Lane site, determining the areas worth investigating. The teams also took advantage of early July’s low tides to look at the intertidal zone and found evidence of a large stone-wall fish trap in the area where Galey Brook spills into salt water to the south of the village.
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