Williams Lake Indigenous business expands archaeological services to benefit central and northern B.C.

October 20, 2020

Sugar Cane Archaeology receives $47,421 rebate to purchase a portable X-Ray Fluorescence machine

Northern Development’s Northern Industries Innovation Fund was established to increase the competitiveness of Northern B.C. businesses and to support diversification efforts. In 2020, Sugar Cane Archaeology applied for a $47,271 rebate through this program as they sought to expand their services by purchasing a portable X-Ray Fluorescence machine (pXRF) and renovating their existing archaeology space to accommodate the new service.

Sugar Cane Archaeology is owned by Williams Lake First Nation and they employ six members full time and 12 members part time. This project provides members of the Nation with more job opportunities and inspires technological innovation in the geological science field while responding to an industry need for geochemical services.

The pXRF machine resting on a table at the Williams Lake First Nation offices.
Photo: Northern Development

 “pXRF is a portable machine that provides a laboratory-like elemental analysis in the field,” said Whitney Spearing, archaeologist and project manager, Sugar Cane Archaeology.  “The machine uses a process that displaces electrons from their atomic orbital positions. This displacement releases an x-ray that is characteristic of a specific element; which returns to the detector. This characteristic x-ray is registered by the detector in the pXRF, and then the machine characterizes the energies by element. The entire process takes mere seconds, allowing for quick identification of the material being analyzed.”

Investing in pXRF allows Williams Lake First Nation to develop their services outside the forestry industry. It also provides innovative training opportunities for members and contributes to sustainable growth for the community by increasing revenue streams. This technology allows Sugarcane Archaeology to create comprehensive mineral maps which are sought after by those in resource management, mining, archaeology and local universities.

“The regional availability of a pXRF capable of such detailed analysis, is an incredible opportunity to explore facets of First Nations culture and heritage on the landscape,” explained Spearing. “With this equipment, we are able to conduct analysis in the field, instead of disrupting sensitive heritage sites.”

The project included the purchasing of the pXRF, three days of training and renovations to their existing laboratory space to accommodate the new equipment. Renovations included removing walls, relocating electrical, painting, bathroom upgrades and new flooring.

Funding for this recently completed project came from the Northern Industries Innovation Fund. This funding program provides small and medium sized businesses with a rebate of up to $50,000 to support innovative projects that increase competitiveness and/or lead to diversification. This fund has been fully allocated for 2020 and will resume accepting project applications in 2021.