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National Aboriginal Day marked with bannock, music and cave tours

Hundreds of revellers came to the Tse’K’wa archaeological site and property, also known as Charlie Lake Cave, on Tuesday to celebrate National Aboriginal Day.
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Karen Aird, a cultural heritage strategist hosted tours of the cave, telling about the anthropological significance of the site.

Hundreds of revellers came to the Tse’K’wa archaeological site and property, also known as Charlie Lake Cave, on Tuesday to celebrate National Aboriginal Day. 

Chunks of bannock dough were kneaded, stretched, and wrapped around sticks to be cooked over the open fire—like roasting marshmallows without the stickiness. 

The Soggy Bannock Boys’ country-folk twang rang out across the lawn to where games were in full swing. Find-it games, Indian bingo gift exchange and Dene hand games attracted crowds of participants and spectators. 

Ed Apsassin won a bathmat in Indian bingo, but traded up for a fishing rod. 

“It’s for my grandson,” he said, winking. “No one traded it away from me though.” 

The Treaty 8 Tribal Association hosted the celebration with sponsorship and volunteers from North Peace Savings and Credit Union who put on a steak barbecue, and many others. 

“It’s about bringing people together,” said Gary Oker, one of the event MCs. 

“Life is busy, you know. We don’t often take time to get together, to just acknowledge each other. And there’s a great mix of people here: ranchers, farmers, families. This is community life in the Peace River.”

Tse’K’wa, the Rock House

Charlie Lake Cave—now called Tse’K’wa, which means the Rock House—is small but significant. The walls of the cave are sprinkled with graffiti, and there’s litter here and there. It looks like a place people like to come party. 

But when Simon Fraser University archaeologists excavated the site, their findings changed the understanding of the first peoples, Karen Aird told people on Tuesday during tours of the cave. 

“It’s a sacred place. It’s frustrating that we there are no funds to protect it,” she said. 

The Tse’K’wa Heritage Society wants to build a fence around the site to prevent vandalism and disrespectful use of the area. A trail also needs to be built, allowing safer access down to the cave.

Hundreds of artifacts found here are estimated to be 10,500 years old. The artifacts told of travel patterns and ceremonial practices.

“They found two fully intact ravens, laid with a small tool beside a mandible bone. The raven is significant in Dene Zaa spirituality, so the fact that they were laid out intentionally tells us they were using this site for ceremonial burials,” Aird said. 

“Probably they camped here as part of the seasonal rounds, meeting for socializing, and maybe making governance decisions.

“It was in continuous use from probably 4,500 B.C. right up until when they took the land away,” she said, referring to the Indian reserve system. 

The property was privately owned when the cave was identified by anthropologists in 1983. When the owners decided to sell, they approached the Treaty 8 Tribal Association.

The house is now used for workshops, seminars and private events. The Tse’K’wa Heritage Society hopes to raise funds to develop the property into a cultural site with ethno-botanical trails, plaques describing the anthropological significance of the cave, and a place to display artifacts. 

reporter@ahnfsj.ca