An Interview with Honey Constant: Plains Cree Archaeologist, Plains Cree Maker

We’re back! Last night was the last official weekly #spreadlovenotcorona festival over on my Instagram page before I transition to a summer schedule. I will post more details here presently. Today, I am proud to introduce Honey Constant, Plains Cree from Sturgeon Lake First Nation. She’s a creator and Plains Cree archaeologist currently working on her Masters, and I was honoured to have her virtually sit down and discuss her work.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? tanisi–Hello! My name is Honey Constant, I am Plains Cree from Sturgeon Lake First Nation. This is my First Nation community, but I grew up mostly in Saskatoon and Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Here’s a fun fact: kisiskāciwan-sipiy, or Saskatchewan, is a Cree word for “Swift-flowing River.”

How is your Masters in Archaeology going? How long have you been practicing Plains Archaeology?
I just completed my first year, and it was a lot of learning, both academically and personally. I really explored what I want my research to do, how it will leave a mark in this world, and how it will support reconciliation efforts in Archaeology. My Masters’ thesis is to design an interpretive archaeological program for Wanuskewin Heritage Park from an Indigenous perspective.

I did my archaeology field school at Wanuskewin in 2017 and then I applied for an Interpretive Guide position with the park shortly after. . .and I have been here ever since!

My project involves telling the archaeological story of Wanuskewin with traditional Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing in the forefront. This is what I have practicing since I was hired an Interpretive Guide, so it feels right to make this my Masters thesis. Although I graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with my Bachelor of Science in 2019, I have been working towards this for a while. 

When did you become interested in Plains Archaeology? How does archaeology connect you with your community? 

I knew I wanted to do Archaeology when I was 16 years old. I visited the Museum of Civilization and absolutely fell in love. It was so fun, so interactive. However, when my cousin and I walked through the First Nation/Indigenous portion, it felt like it did not bring to life their stories, did not tell their history, and it definitely did not reflect their voices. I knew I wanted to work there, to better represent the people with our ways of knowing.

So, at 16 I looked at what they required from a curator, and I planned my career path on that. My heart landed on the specific field of Plains Archaeology when I took Dr. Walkers’ Plains Archaeology class in undergrad. At this point, I was in my third year, and I was still figuring out who I am, and where I want to be. And I feel like that process and those questions are carried with us through time.

We never stop asking those questions. But, as a Plains Cree person, this class opened my eyes to my own past heritage, my own lost stories, and  a new found sense of amazement and pride for the land and people around me. 

It is no secret that Indigenous peoples in Canada have experienced ups and downs, bumps and bruises- to say the least. I think its always important to situate ourselves in our work or research, whatever that may be. For me, I am a Intergenerational Residential School survivor. My grandparents and family members have attended Indian Residential Schools in Saskatchewan.

These schools were designed to “kill the Indian in the child”, and with that, children as young as 5 years old were forcibly removed from their homes and communities, had their language, kinship, and all normal aspects of their lives taken away. That leaves damage and loss of culture felt by the child, the descendants, the community, and on the culture.

Sadly, the first residential school opened in 1885, and the last one to closed its doors in 1996, one year after I was born. This was the school one of my grandparents went to: St Michaels Residential School, in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan.

I won’t share those stories because they are not mine to tell, and they are not my traumas to reopen. This I will say: even though I did not go to these schools myself, I can feel those traumas that have been passed down through time. With that, I feel the loss of culture, language, teachings.

Now that I am learning and exploring Plains Archaeology, I know the people were innovative, aware, and considerate of all different factors of life. The story of the bison jumps…. amazing! Growing up, history connected to life here on the plains before European contact had portrayed indigenous people as “simple”, or the land had nothing but “stones and bones that no one is going to care about.”

It is my passion to say that is wrong. I love my job, I get to share the story of these people with Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike: how they used the valley, the plants, and how their culture and spirituality believed in balance and reciprocity. My journey with Plains Archaeology has reconnected me even further to my culture. I grew up with the culture, but I was still missing some pieces that did not survive.

Right now, I am learning and practicing Cree and exploring more of the cultural side. It feels right, like I am rediscovering and taking my voice back. I believe this resonates with many Indigenous peoples. My story isn’t a unique one, but I hope that, by sharing my journey, others may find something they relate to that encourages them in their own journey.

What has been your favorite project in archaeology?  I absolutely love my job with Wanuskewin, I get to interact with so many people! I get to walk people through the valley and bring to life these peoples’ stories, I get to dispel myths, and I even learn. I know that I can never know everything. I know that with more Indigenous engagement with archaeology, the more accurate these stories will be. I can best describe it as discovering long-lost stories. 

For those who are not familiar, archaeology is the study of past cultures through physical artifacts or features that have survived decomposition over time. Basically: things they forgot or left at a campsite, hunting site, or many other types of sites that do not decompose.

At Wanuskewin, we have 19 pre-contact sites including campsites, two known bison jumps, one bison pound, tipi ring sites, and the most Northerly documented Medicine Wheel. There have been no human remains found at the park. What makes Wanuskewin interesting is that we have seen every type of Northern Plains Indigenous groups present at some time in our valley. Oldest evidence that suggests that people have used or lived in the valley is at least 6000 years before present. Oldest bison bone is 6400 years before present, which is pretty amazing. 

There is just so much to talk about here and in Plains Archaeology. It’s hard to pin point even 3 key parts of archaeology that are my favorite. If I had to say, it would probably be sharing archaeology. I want others to feel the same connection to the past that I have found and for them to help change how archaeology is done in the future. The theory of Indigenous Archaeology is a whole other topic I could talk about: it is archaeology done for, with, and by Indigenous communities. Relating back to the dark history of our past, it makes sense that we would want to reclaim and be a part of the discovery and telling of our archaeological heritage. 

Your work in traditional arts is incredible. I think your beaded aurora borealis pins were the first I came across in my Instagram feed, and they instantly caught my eye. When did you start practicing your craft? Who did you learn from?
I remember being a child watching my Mom, kohkom (Grandmother), and aunty sitting at the kitchen table, beads everywhere, and a lamp illuminating their work. They used to give me a pipe cleaner and those large plastic pony beads. I beaded here and there as a teenage, but it wasn’t until last summer that I began beading almost every day.

Short time later, I decided to try hosting an Instagram page where I can track my progress and in that time. Its been wild. I have had so many new opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I am very thankful to my mom for teaching me and guiding me, for my kohkom for always gifting new beads, and for Keith and Randi, the real deadly beaders in my life who encouraged me and taught me new methods. I appreciate all of them. 

How does your craft connect with what you study? Beading helps me connect to my research and archaeology in general by being aware and reflective. Nowadays, I bead using a silver metal beading needle, use small glass seed beads, and nylon thread.

Moving back in time, during European contact, we started to get colourful fabrics and beads that were larger, cotton string, and metal needles… everything was larger and more robust. Before European contact, we had things in nature, the Hawthorn bush gave strong thorns used as sewing needles or awls, animal tendons were turned into sinew for string, and beads could have been actual seeds like from the Wolf Willow plant or most commonly, could have been porcupine quills. All of this has helped me better explain culture changes over time and how our artistry has evolved with us.

How does your craft connect you with your community? 
Beading is an art, its something that is passed down, and some methods or styles of bead work can be traced to specific families or communities. Those who are more knowledgeable in these patterns and shapes can identify a beaded pair of moccasins to culture group. Beyond this, I know beading has strengthened relationships with people in my life, it’s a pastime that we can do together, teach each other new ways of doing things, or even something to do in peace in each others company.

I love beading with my mom and putting on a movie in the background. Part of my job at the Park is to facilitate and plan beading workshops. This past workshop season has been amazing, we really built a community between us. All surrounded around learning a new skill and sharing knowledge and stories. 

What is your dream archaeology project? Oh my lord, I have so many. I guess that is the benefit of being a dreamer: many dreams. If I were to pick just one, I would have to say an archaeological project where Indigenous youth and Elders are present and participate in the entire process. I want to find an archaeological project where there is community need and interest to participate: where youth are invited to participate in surveys, excavation, and reporting so they can have their voices and experiences heard. Where Elders guide and inform site protocol from Smudging, ceremony, to storytelling. Then, I want the final outcome of the study to be usable and useful to the community. How will this research positively affect the community? What information will be found? Is this knowledge going to help the community tell their story in their own voice? I think this is a reasonable dream that should be a reality.

What challenges have you faced–in your studies, in your crafts, and in your community–with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic? [Nothing is too political or descriptive here; alternatively, if that question is too much, feel free to answer parts of it or not at all.]
As an Indigenous woman in a science-based field, I did have some trouble adjusting to campus life. My culture is rooted in community and kinship.

So when I moved out for the first time, I felt like I had no support and no one to relate to in Saskatoon (my family is in Prince Albert), so I found myself disconnected. It took some time, but I found a support system. Two of which were faculty members that I really felt supported and encouraged me when it all felt like a lot. One is my Masters Supervisor Dr Ernie Walker, and the other is Dr Glen Stuart. I am thankful to them, and all instructors and faculty really just want to see us succeed. I think I always had to remind myself through all the bumps and bruises is that- there is happiness in every situation, we learn from the failures, and we are exactly where we are meant to be. This outlook is all rooted in the cultural and spiritual journey that I have been on. 

What major challenges do the Plains Cree face in 2020? Do you feel that the wider community is aware of these challenges?
Real talk? Everything I share, I share from my understanding and perspective. All of us are on different journeys. So when I speak to challenges or experiences, it’s from own my experience. 

Where can people learn more about what you do? I post mainly to my Instagram page @HoneyWillowCreations, and I have recently attempted Twitter. I hope to continue documenting my journey. 

Be sure to check out Honey’s page and explore what she does more. She’s awesome, and her bead projects are gorgeous.

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