Kalispel Tribe partners with WSU researchers on 5,000-year-old archeological dig

NEWPORT, Wash. — The Kalispel Tribe is collaborating with Washington State University researchers on a 5,000-year-old archeological dig.

Ancient Tribal earth ovens are being excavated as part of the first archeological project ever made public by the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, said WSU researchers in a news release on Tuesday. The ovens were built long before the Egyptian pyramids.

The excavation will happen on June 5 near Newport with WSU archeologists. Attendees will see uncovered artifacts at the site and learn more about the history of the Kalispel Tribe’s indigenous food systems.

The artifacts are being carefully removed from the ground to make room for essential housing for the Tribe, according to researchers.

At the same time, explained archeologists, the excavation provides an opportunity for the Tribe to discover more of its history. Archeologists believe the site was an ancient tribal hunting camp on the banks of the Pend Oreille River and believe the project could reveal insights into the foods the Kalispel people have been preparing and eating in the Northwest for the last 5,000 years.

“As a Tribe, we’ve never shared this kind of historical excavation experience with the public,” said Kalispel Tribal elder Shirley Blackbear. “But I think it is important for non-Natives to learn and understand more about our Tribe. Our history and traditions are very rich and important to us. Cooking techniques have been passed down from generation to generation.”

Archeologists said that Tribes have not always been consulted during archaeological digs but that the Kalispel Tribe trusts WSU researchers to protect its history.

“This is one of those rare occasions where the Tribe, with its own expertise, could do this on its own, but we would wind up doing it to the exclusion of everything else, and we already have other standing obligations,” Kevin Lyons, Kalispel Tribal archaeologist. “We are partnering with WSU archeologists on this project because we have a long tradition of working with them and know that they will do justice to the Tribe’s history and its tangible footprint.”

Shannon Tushingham, a WSU professor of archeology who has worked with the Tribe for many years, is leading an archeological field school where students will get first-hand experience practicing techniques.

“It is really about teaching students the archeological skills they will need to get jobs in the growing field of cultural resource management,” Tushingham said. “We are training the next generation of professional archeologists how to work with tribal communities and interact with them in a meaningful and professional way. We are honored to be hosted by the Kalispel Tribe.”