E. Leigh Syms PHD. C.M. is Curator Emeritus in Archaeology at the Manitoba Museum, Adjunct Professor in the Department of Anthropology, University of Manitoba, and a life-long promoter of the richness of First Nations ancient heritage. He has written numerous works on First Nations early heritage. In recent years he has focused on writing books such as: Stories of the Old Ones from the Lee River, Southeastern Manitoba: The Owl Inini, Carver Inini, and Dancer Ikwe (2014); Inninew (Cree) Material Culture and Heritage at Sipiwesk Lake: Results of the 2003 Archaeological Survey (with Teija Dedi and Wendy Hart-Ross) (2013); and Kayasochi Kikawenow: Our Mother from Long Ago ( with Kevin Brownlee) (1999).

Kevin Brownlee is a member of Kinosao Sipi Cree Nation (Norway House). He obtained his Master’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of Manitoba. Kevin was hired as the Curator of Archaeology at the Manitoba Museum in 2003. His research focuses on the archaeology of Manitoba’s boreal forest and the emerging eld of Indigenous archaeology.

Ideas For The Classroom

Also see:

Optimizing Community Resources

As archaeology and other sciences are discovering, the Indigenous world is far older than previously understood by western science. Several exhibits in the Manitoba Museum integrate current research and insights in their public galleries. Heritage and science centres like the Manitoba Museum provide opportunities to better understand our present by encountering artifacts and ideas from the past. We learn how our ancestors adapted to the world around them by studying the things they left behind.

A Manitoba Museum Field Trip

Artifacts recovered from the archaeological dig at Lockport are on display at the First Farmers Exhibit in the Grasslands Gallery at the Manitoba Museum. This dig uncovered evidence of the oldest known Northern farm in North America.

The First Farmers Exhibit in the Grassland Gallery provides evidence that local First Nations were successful small-scale farmers before Europeans arrived. Accepting this evidence required rewriting history and revising earlier stereotypes. The exhibit focuses on the Three Sisters but also delves into the phenomenal knowledge of plant ecology that First Nations have cultivated. Whether domesticating plants to improve productivity to feed large communities, or enhancing dietary diversity, evidence clearly supports that First Peoples possessed the sophisticated knowledge necessary to nurture them.

As we look at the dietary contributions made by First Nations over thousands of years, we realize that the Three Sisters are a small part of a large suite of foods
that remain important to us today. For example, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cacao (chocolate), avocado, tomatoes, peanuts, vanilla, as well as an ever-increasing range of ‘new’ popular foods such as chia and amaranth make up an important part of the world’s daily diet. In addition, First Nations developed plants such as cotton and rubber which have had major impact on the world economies.

The Three Sisters story and video can be used by the classroom teacher to stimulate a range of inquiry questions. From the nature of archeology to the history and science of the food we eat, from the many contributions of First Nations peoples to the future of sustainable agriculture, students are encouraged to explore significant questions of interest.

What do Archaeologists Do?

Review the section of the video that takes us to
e Lockport Dig. (6:45 – 10:15) What are the archaeologists doing? What did they find? What do these findings reveal about First Nations farming practices? What can we learn from the evidence and vestiges of the past? What can the artifacts tell us about the lives and habits of the people who created them?

What is Indigenous archaeology?

Invite students to research the field of Indigenous archeology and to share their findings with the class. What are the challenges and contributions of the field?

What plants did First Nations peoples cultivate?

For an extensive list of plants cultivated by First Nations peoples, go to newworldideas.ca.

Select a plant from the list and find out as much as you can about it. Where does it come from? Who developed it? How did they do it? What were the processes involved? When was it introduced into Europe? How is it used today?

Share your findings with the class.

Create a list of recipes for the Three Sisters. Try them out.

Who are First Nations peoples?

  • How long have they been in North America?
  • What languages were spoken? What Indigenous languages are spoken today?
  • What is companion planting and why is it important?
  • What is the role of storytelling in passing on scientific knowledge? 
If you want to go deeper in time, Professor Leigh Syms latest inquiry takes us into the earliest known plant harvesters in the Americas. For more information go to The First Farmers of Mount Vale