Hunter Bill Hanlon looking across the valley from the ridge above the discovery site. (Mike Roch/Courtesy of the Royal BC Museum)

Hunter Bill Hanlon looking across the valley from the ridge above the discovery site. (Mike Roch/Courtesy of the Royal BC Museum)

Victoria researcher speaks about “Canadian Iceman” at Sidney reading

Before retiring last year, Dr. Richard Hebda was curator of botany and earth history at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria for over 30 years, studying plant fossils and ecology. However, at an upcoming reading for the Sidney and Peninsula Literary Festival, Hebda will read from a book that is ostensibly about a person. But according to Hebda, there is much more to the story.

Titled Kwädąy Dän Ts’ìnchį: Long Ago Person Found, it traces the origin of a young man who froze to death in northwestern B.C. around 300 years ago. When his remains were discovered in 1999 by three sheep hunters, scientists collaborated with the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations to learn more about his life in a respectful way. As co-editor, Hebda will read an excerpt from his book alongside Monique Gray Smith (author of Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation) on Feb. 16 at the SHOAL Centre at 7 p.m.

In an interview, Hebda said he was first approached to study pollen grains and plant remains in and on the person, but he stayed longer, learning more about the man’s culture. Alongside other scientists and researchers, Hebda said he was taken on a journey himself.

“I have worked with human remains before, and every case is a special circumstance,” said Hebda. He said researchers could learn a lot about a person based on their belongings. Scientists found plant material on his robe (made of ground-squirrel pelts), but also plant and other remains in his digestive tract, which revealed where he was in the last two days of his life. “He lived in a landscape full of plants, so that was part of setting the background,” said Hebda.

“A door opened to this entire world, which you may have some intimations about but you have no idea until you begin to explore that world.”

The book was finally published in 2012 after 10 years of research, and the book was the work of many collaborators. Other than Hebda, there are two other co-editors. Sheila Greer was the “bridge by which we related to the First Nations communities,” said Hebda. And Alexander Mackie was a provincial archaeologist who represented the government’s resposibilities. Throughout, they collaborated with Indigenous researchers and knowledge holders who brought other perspectives to the table.

In most cases, Western knowledge is recorded on ink and paper, whereas Indigenous communities passed down oral histories. However, Hebda said “it’s not just the way it’s passed on, it’s the way the knowledge is accumulated.”

Hebda said scientists glean their knowledge from small representative samples, whereas Indigenous communities have hundreds of years of observations passed down from generations, and so they complimented each other.

“Their way of knowing is much more direct, in terms of personal experience, where many of the people who did the work have never been up there. So they really don’t know the context of the world the man lived in.”

Hebda said unlike Ötzi, the natural mummy found in Europe and sometimes called “the Iceman,” scientists were conscious of the fact that this man belonged to a community and had living relatives. In 2001, the person was cremated and returned close to the place he was found, though the research continued.

“The relationship between First Nations and modern science have not always been the best one, and the elders decided to go ahead with this in good faith,” said Hebda.

“Al Mackie said what was important for [the people] was to know who this man was, if they could identify the man. They never identified who he was specifically, but they did identify what clan he belonged to, and that’s extremely important in their culture, because there are responsibilities, including who buries him, who holds the ceremony to honour his life…so he was identified in that sense, which was really powerful for that community.”

The event is co-sponsored by Tanner’s Books. Tickets are $10, available at Tanner’s Books or online at sidneyliteraryfestival.ca. Proceeds will support the 2019 Sidney and Peninsula Literary Festival.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A family of ducks that lives near Saanich Municipal Hall recently welcomed 11 ducklings and took them for a swim in the koi pond outside the offices. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Pair of ducks make Saanich Municipal Hall a nursery for 11 hatchlings

Family of ducks spent time in koi pond before heading down to Swan Lake

Habitat Acquisition Trust has received provincial funding to help restore Garry oak ecosystems on southern Vancouver Island. (Photo by Jeremy da Silva)
Central Saanich park among sites for local Garry oak restoration projects

Habitat Acquisition Trust received $140,000 in funding for 12 projects

Architect’s rendering of the 7 Erskine Lane development, showing the view from the east and south. (VDA Architecture Ltd. image)
View Royal green-lights residential development on Erskine Lane

First of two developments near Victoria General Hospital will provide 71 housing units

Andrew Swanson was arrested Wednesday after he was wanted for an alleged choking assault and for obstructing police. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Victoria police arrest Andrew Swanson on warrants for alleged choking assault, obstruction

A member of the public spotted Swanson and called 911 before police came and made the arrest

(Black Press Media file photo)
Youth sustains minor injuries in stabbing at Saanich Plaza

Suspect under age of 16 taken into custody, no risk to the public, police say

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of May 4

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Do you plan to travel on the Victoria Day long weekend?

It’s the unofficial start to the summer season. A time of barbecues,… Continue reading

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

People line up for COVID-19 vaccination at a drop-in clinic at Cloverdale Recreation Centre on Wednesday, April 27, 2021. Public health officials have focused efforts on the Fraser Health region. (Aaron Hinks/Peace Arch News)
B.C. reports 1st vaccine-induced blood clot; 684 new COVID cases Thursday

Two million vaccine doses reached, hospital cases down

More than 6,000 camping reservations in British Columbia were cancelled as a result of a provincial order limiting travel between health regions. (Unsplash)
1 in 4 camping reservations cancelled in B.C. amid COVID-19 travel restrictions

More than 6,500 BC Parks campsite reservations for between April 19 and May 25 have been revoked

Most Read