In Memorium: Professor Emeritus Donald H. Mitchell

Donald H. Mitchell, Professor Emeritus, a member of the Anthropology Department from its inception to his retirement in 1995, died unexpectedly on February 27 at his home in Eastend, Saskatchewan.  Don is survived by his brother Howard, his daughter Lisa, and two grandchildren: Paloma and Anand.

Don initially took a BA in History and Economics (1955) and later a BComm (1958) from the University of British Columbia (UBC) with the intention of working in the family publishing business. However, an evening course in Anthropology from Carl Borden led to an MA in Anthropology (1963) from UBC, followed by a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Oregon in 1968 based on his dissertation Archaeology of the Gulf of Georgia Area: A Natural Region and its Culture Types.  He joined the Anthropology and Sociology Department at UVic in 1965 as the second anthropologist and the first archaeologist in the department.  He was instrumental in establishing the anthropology program as a four-field department in the Boasian tradition at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.  He served as the founding Chair of the newly independent Department of Anthropology from 1973 to 1975 and Associate Dean of Arts and Science from 1976 to 1979. A Professor in Anthropology, he retired from the University of Victoria in 1995.

Don did archaeological field work in many areas in the province, but became focused on Salish Sea and other Vancouver Island sites.  Many of his articles are considered seminal works in BC archaeology.  In particular he was interested in the economic and environmental aspects of archaeology.  This led to interest in and collection of non-artifactual materials such as bones, shells, wood and seeds.  He and his students were some of the first BC archaeologists to collect and analyze column and soil samples from midden sites.  Don was also among the first archaeologists to insist on a meaningful role for First Nations in the archaeology of their long-term history.  He was instrumental in developing an archaeological training program for Indigenous youth in the early 1970s and he routinely involved local First Nations band members in his archaeological excavations. His emphasis on detail, clarity of reporting and data-based conclusions was passed along to his graduate students, many of whom work in archaeology today.  He was awarded the Smith-Wintemberg Award in 1998 by the Canadian Archaeological Association for outstanding contributions to the discipline of archaeology.

In addition to his academic career, Don was very involved for 28 years in the development of heritage legislation and policy in BC, contributing his expertise to the Heritage Conservation Act, as well as serving on the Archaeological Sites Advisory Board, the Provincial Heritage Advisory and the Heritage Trust.  He also served as editor of the Canadian Journal of Archaeology and advisor to Syesis (a journal produced by the RBCM).  In addition, he served on the British Columbia Department of Education's Elementary Social Studies Revision Committee, which introduced Anthropology and Social Science into the Elementary School curriculum. He also produced a variety of public-educational materials, including several slide sets for teaching and a video on basketry.

All of these accomplishments point to Don Mitchell’s impressive and lasting impact on BC archaeology and the Department of Anthropology, but say little about the individual behind them.  What we remember, as former graduate students and colleagues, is a man of patience and sharp intellect, with a dry, wicked sense of humour. We miss him very much.

Becky Wigen and Quentin Mackie