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Archaeology on Innu Territory

Of some 8,000 archaeological sites discovered in the province of Québec, more than 1,600, or 20%, are located on the Côte-Nord. Many of these sites stem from an ancient Innu presence on the territory.

Over the last decades, many archaeological interventions were carried out in sectors that made up the territory traditionally occupied by the Innu. One example of a research programme that allowed archaeologists to document Innu presence, both ancient and contemporary, took place in the valley of the Sainte-Marguerite River, which meets the Gulf of Saint Lawrence about 20 km west of Sept-Îles.

This imposing project, whose goal was to build a third dam on this river, about 80 km from its mouth, occasioned nine seasons of archaeological intervention in the Sainte-Marguerite River basin (1991-1998). The project was managed by the firm, Cérane.

Sixty-seven sites were discovered, twelve of which were excavated and a thirteenth was the subject of an intensive inventory. In his analysis, archaeologist Jean Mandeville also incorporated the ten prehistoric sites and sixteen modern sites discovered by the team of Mr. Pablo Somcynsky on the shores neighboring Lake Gras and the Pékan River. (Somcynsky 1993). They show that this basin was occupied 4,000 years ago, and up to the mid-20th century. What follows is the general interpretation drawn from analyzing the results of Mandeville's discoveries:

“This information has demonstrated that Amerindian groups frequented these spaces for at least 4,000 years, and that the Sainte-Marguerite valley is part of an ensemble of sites. The movements and customs of the occupants seem to have been continuously controlled by two geographical ensembles. These two ensembles present a common frontier at Grand Portage. South of this point, occupants were more likely to participate in the Laurentian littoral universe, whereas to the North, the occupants gravitated more around the large interior lakes”. (Cérane 2000: 178).

Two sites are worthy of our attention: EeDq-1 and EkDr-1. The first is about 60 km from the coast, on the northern shore of Lake Jourdain. Crossing this site was a stage in the itinerary of a long portage, allowing travelers to avoid a very tumultuous section of the river. This site, excavated in 1992 and 1994, covers an area of 130 square km. Mandeville describes its complexity:

“Multiple occupations which attest to the presence of Amerindians over at least 4,000 years, have been identified during inventory and subsequent excavations. EeDq-1 is in fact a complex of sites. A total of 19 structures were identified, 11 of which show with prehistoric occupations. These structures most often refer to homes, some intact, others unarticulated, and others of a rather elusive nature”. (Cérane 2000: 21).

The site's prehistoric collection contains 61 tools, 7024 shards and 11 homes. This is therefore an obligatory site of passage for families or specialized groups moving upstream or downstream of the natural barrier represented by the long section of rapids found at this latitude. It can thus be concluded that dozens of groups and hundreds of individuals stopped here over 4,000 years. The testimony they left of their passage informs us as to their origins, intentions, or relationships with neighboring groups in this sector, previously described by Mandeville as a necessary passage, but also a border between two great spheres of cultural influence.

The EkDr-1 site was spotted in 1997 on a terrace of the right shore, where the Jean-Pierre River widens at the SM-3 Reservoir's North-Eastern extremity. It was not completely excavated, but through a series of soundings, its surface was evaluated at 350 square meters. Even though this test excavation represented only 25.5 square meters, 35 tools and 383 shards were found, and 6 or 7 homes uncovered. In addition, Mandeville emphasizes the great diversity of primary matter, 21 different types of stone, represented by this inventory. It should be underlined that all this material demonstrates a relationship with the centre of Québec, suggesting that occupants cultivated relationships with groups to the West, North-West and North. Mandeville thus sums up his thoughts about this site: “The data collected here shows a remarkable site, but it is difficult to understand all its possibilities, since clearing it could not be completed.” (Cérane 2000: 67).

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