Impact Awards
2023 Connection Award winner: Andrew Martindale

Andrew Martindale’s 30-year career as an anthropological archaeologist is built on connections.

In 1994, when Martindale was invited to do his PhD, he travelled across the country, on his own initiative, to seek permission from Indigenous communities on the British Columbia coast to come onto their territory and research their history.

“I didn’t think I could do this work without that relationship and permission, because it just seemed unethical,” Martindale said. “And surprisingly, that was unusual at the time.”

Martindale recalls meeting with the chiefs and matriarchs of the Nine Tribes of the Coast Tsimshian, who granted permission, on one condition: If you come, you can’t leave.

“Their point, which I did not understand at the time, was that my conceit was unfounded,” said Martindale. “I would never fully understand their land and history, but with time, I might understand the parameters of my ignorance and be of help.”

True to that agreement, he has focused his career on scholarship as knowledge co-production through partnerships with Indigenous communities.

“I have never worked in isolation. While this individual award is an honour, recognition belongs to a lot of people, especially a lot of Indigenous knowledge holders who would not currently qualify for SSHRC nominations,” he said.

As a professor in The University of British Columbia’s Department of Anthropology, Martindale explores the histories of Indigenous Peoples of the Northwest Coast of North America. With his colleagues, he has pioneered new methods for sampling the archaeological record and rectifying radiocarbon dates, exploring resource management, and unravelling architectural sequences of Indigenous history.

Mostly, however, Martindale explores connections between the material records of archaeology and the oral records of Indigenous people. The resulting research has demonstrated the historical accuracy of Indigenous oral records. The confirmation is something Indigenous communities do not need, but it serves them in confronting colonial incursions on their rights.

The work has featured in legal cases in Canada, including Lax Kwˈalaams v. Canada (2008) and Reece v. Canada (2022). It has challenged Canadian law to better understand material and oral records, and to recognize the existence of Indigenous legal systems.

Nevertheless, until recently, research like Martindale’s wasn’t widely recognized or celebrated. He has observed this changing in the two years since Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc announced over 200 unmarked graves being found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

While the discovery shocked many in the country, it did not come as a surprise to those, like Martindale, who were quietly working with survivors and their communities to search for missing children. Represented by the Canadian Archaeological Association’s Working Group on Unmarked Graves, their group has been a key source of guidance and support for communities.

Martindale is also a member of the National Advisory Committee on Residential Schools Missing Children and Unmarked Graves.

“These groups, especially the survivors in them, carry a great weight for our collective benefit. I hope I can help share some of that load,” he said.

Earning national attention and acclaim, including through the SSHRC Impact Award in the Connection category, leaves Martindale with mixed, complex feelings.

“I am exploring a history that non-Indigenous people have consciously tried to avoid and even erase. I’m working in a landscape of profound and ongoing violence and trauma,” he said. “I’m grateful and honoured that people think it’s good work. But it is an unusual path, and one that I do not walk alone. I have asked the Spuneˈluxutth (Penelakut) Elders Committee, with whom I work, to allocate the funds from this award to the ongoing effort to locate missing children from the Kuper Island [Indian] Industrial School.”

Martindale strives to root his partnership ethos in mutual respect and equity with Indigenous communities. He credits the people he collaborates with as “friends, colleagues and teachers […] I am a guest in their lands, and I try to be a well-behaved and respectful one. An important audience for this scholarship is non-Indigenous people who often remain uninformed about the realities of structurally embedded inequality in Canada.”

Cognizant of how racism and colonialism have benefited his career path while Indigenous and other marginalized peoples have faced systemic barriers, Martindale is committed to supporting the next generation of scholars, such as world-renowned Indigenous scholar Kisha Supernant of the University of Alberta.

Martindale also trains Indigenous community members in archaeological practices. In 2022, he developed a community-focused course with the Musqueam Indian Band, for Indigenous ground search teams working in Indian residential school contexts. Delivered that same year, the course is set to expand in 2024.

Looking ahead, Martindale hopes the efforts he has been part of “to excavate the truth” can have a positive impact on Canada.

“We are not the country that I was taught when I was a child,” he said. “But, perhaps we can become the country we thought we were—through understanding the truth of our history. And then maybe we can proceed toward reconciliation, with the guidance of Indigenous leadership, to becoming that country.”

About the award

The annual Impact Awards recognize the highest achievements in SSHRC-funded research, knowledge mobilization and scholarship, as well as the highest achievements resulting from a SSHRC fellowship awarded.

The Connection Award recognizes an outstanding SSHRC-funded initiative to facilitate the flow and exchange of research knowledge within and/or beyond the social sciences and humanities research community.

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