Actors in a re-enactment of how the Solutreans came to North America | Image source: Yap Films
Ice Bridge, a one hour documentary makes its debut on CBC’s The Nature of Things with David Suzuki on Sunday, January 14, 2018 at 8pm. It covers a theory called: The Solutrean Hypothesis. Director Robin Bicknell takes us on a journey with two archaeologists who are trying to prove that some of the first people to set foot on Turtle Island were the Solutreans, a group of ancient Europeans who they believe crossed the Atlantic Ocean during the last major Ice Age.
“Archaeology remains a non-Indigenous way of telling the story of how people came to these lands and is primarily conducted by non-Indigenous people,” explains Kisha Supernant (Métis), Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology at University of Alberta when asked her opinion about the hypothesis. “Indigenous communities know their own histories, even after the disruptions and dispossession of colonization. Indigenous people do not need archaeologists to tell them how they arrived to their homelands and territories.”
Dr. Dennis Stanford, an archaeologist from the Smithsonian Institute, and Dr. Bruce Bradley, a professor of archaeology from the University of Exeter, England are the two scholars who are key proponents of the theory. In the documentary, they head an archaeological dig off of Chesapeake Bay to examine evidence that they believe contradicts the Bering Strait Theory and supports the Solutrean Hypothesis.
Their findings gets mixed reactions within the scientific/archaeological community. Some support it, others believe that there isn’t enough evidence for it. As a viewer, I find It interesting to imagine or read the multitude of theories about how people lived tens of thousands of years ago and then journey to seek out the ‘truth’. I find it fascinating to imagine what it was like for my Anishinaabe ancestors to live on this land long before the arrival of Europeans.
While watching Ice Bridge I kept waiting to see an interview with an Indigenous knowledge keeper or historian who could provide insight from an Indigenous perspective on the Solutrean Hypothesis. Eventually a biologist shows up with an Indigenous connection, Dr. Louis Lesage; a representative of the Huron-Wendat Nation, who looks for answers on the Huron-Wendat origin story. He ends up in support of the theory based on DNA evidence that is questionable to the theory’s critics. There are no other Indigenous perspectives. The lead archaeologists and director missed the mark by including only a single Indigenous voice to give analysis on the Solutrean Hypothesis. “This kind of ‘let’s talk to an Indigenous person after we’ve come up with a theory’ is not a good model of archaeology,” explained Supernant. “Choosing only to show someone who agrees is not ideal when there is a lot of controversy around the hypothesis being presented.”
Indigenous cultures are incredibly diverse across the Americas, especially on the Eastern seaboard. Including diverse Indigenous voices in this documentary is crucial because the Solutrean Hypothesis is pretty much about how these colonial scholars believe that Indigenous people got here. “There are [people] from Indigenous communities who work closely with archaeologists to help understand what scientific archaeology can contribute to their communities,” Supernant stated. “And there are archaeologists who collaborate closely with Indigenous communities when working in their territory and on their history. The lack of Indigenous voices in this story of how people may have first arrived to North America is therefore deeply troubling.”
The Solutrean Theory and others like it can be used as a tool to delegitimize Indigenous peoples’ histories, identities, cultures and therefore our rights. An article written by Jennifer Raf, assistant professor at the University of Kansas, in the department of Anthropology on the subject states: There is a troubling history of media and western scholars that gravitate to stories and theories such as the Solutrean Theory which seeks to emphasize an unsubstantiated hypotheses of European contributions to Native American prehistory with complete unawareness—or worse, disregard—for the ways in which this narrative has been used over the past several centuries as a tool to de-legitimize Native Americans’ connections to their own history.
In Ice Bridge, the Dr. Stanford and Dr. Bradley are enthusiastic about “expanding and enriching their understanding of the human experience” in their search for the truth. As an Indigenous person I’m always weary about scholars who want to understand Indigenous people’s history with very minimal to zero input from Indigenous people or scholars. Learning about Indigenous people from Indigenous people themselves is how you enrich your understanding of the human experience.