Response to the Report on the Truth and Reconciliation Task Force

As was recently announced over Arcan-L I’m been appointed as one of the members of the Steering Committee on Canada’s Archives (SCCA) – Response to the Report on the Truth and Reconciliation Task Force.  I feel honoured to be part of this initiative to address the TRC’s Calls to Action relating to archives and look forward to being part of this important work.

In case you missed the announcement it read as follows:

Dear members of the Canadian archival community,

Over the summer the Steering Committee on Canada’s Archives issued a Call for Expressions of Interest to the Canadian archival community in order to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report Response Task Force (TRC-TF). The response to this call was overwhelming. The realization that across the nation, our community of professionals is ready and willing to meet the TRC’s Call to Action #70 with conviction and dedication is truly inspiring, and on behalf of the SCCA I want to thank each and every one of you who submitted their statement of interest!

 I would also like to introduce you to members of our 12 person Task Force:

Title Name Organization
Chair Erica Hernández-Read Archivist, Northern BC Archives & Special Collections, University of Northern British Columbia
Member Raymond Frogner Head of Archives, National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation
Member Ian Moir Territorial Archivist, NWT Archives
Member Melanie Delva Archivist, Anglican Diocese of New Westminster and Provincial Synod of BC & Yukon
Member Krista McCracken Archives Supervisor,  Arthur A. Wishart Library and Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, Algoma University
Member Marthe Brown Archivist, Laurentian University
Member Raegan Swanson Executive Director, Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives
Member Marianne Mclean Principal, Eigg Road Consulting
Member Emma Wright Archives Manager, Royal BC Museum and Archives
Member Nichole Vonk General Council Archivist, The United Church of Canada Archives
Member Jennifer Jansen Records Analyst, Tsawwassen First Nation
Member Marnie Burnham Strategic Advisor, Public Services Branch
Library and Archives Canada / Government of Canada

 The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report Response Task Force (TRC-TF) has a tremendous challenge ahead. If you recall, the Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada<http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Honouring_the_Truth_Reconciling_for_the_Future_July_23_2015.pdf> (June 2015) called upon the Canadian archival community “to undertake, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, a national review of archival policies and best practices to:

 1)      Determine the level of compliance with both the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN Joinet-Orentlicher Principles

 2)      Produce a report with recommendations for full implementation of these international mechanisms as a reconciliation framework for Canadian archives.” (p. 258)

 As its first step on this journey towards the “action” of reconciliation, the TRC-TF had to develop a Taskforce Project Charter – a document outlining project overview, scope, timelines and resources, organization, and risks, assumptions and constraints. While we are still working out the resources section, the TRC-TF would like to share our recently established Statement of Intent which will lead our work over the course of the next 2 years:

 The Task Force mandate is to conduct a review of archival policies and best practices existent across the country and identify potential barriers to reconciliation efforts between the Canadian archival community and Indigenous record keepers. With such a review in hand, the Task Force will then work in collaboration with Indigenous  communities  to create an actionable response to this research which will become the foundation for a reconciliation framework for Canadian archives.

Once our Project Charter is finalized, it will be posted on the SCCA website (currently under development). Input into this document, and all others we post will be most welcomed. We strongly encourage you to take interest in, if not ownership of, this Task Force – we want to work with you as much as we hope to work for you on this national issue.

 Regards,

Erica Hernández-Read, Chair

On behalf of Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report Response Task Force Steering Committee on Canada’s Archives

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Volunteer Labour in Archives

A researcher working with delicate resource at The National Archives.  Wikimedia Commons.

A researcher working with delicate resource at The National Archives. Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the implications of volunteer labour in the archival profession and the challenges faced by archives that are completely volunteer run.  If you haven’t already go read “Implications of Archival Labor” by Stacie Williams. Williams’ work clearly outlines the problems wTith invisible labour in archives, the need for archives to advocate more effectively, and the need for us to talk openly about time and money.  Jarrett Drake, and Eira Tansey, and Allana Mayer have also addressed the cultural bias, volunteerism and privilege that is embedded in the archival profession.  We need to be having these discussions about precarious employment and the real costs of archival labour.

In the case of completely volunteer run archives – many of which have been operating on volunteer labour for their entire existence – how do you make the case that this labour need to be paid?  And how do you create a succession plan for the retirement of a volunteer archivist? The common answer is “document everything!” As Danielle Robichaud pointed out on twitter documentation is often lauded as a way to standardize practices but it is also often used as a way to continue with under funding and poorly resourced archives. Documenting everything doesn’t fix the problem of volunteer labour and at times it can actually work toward devaluing archival work – eg. “Well it’s all really documented in that binder so that any one could do it.”  Archival work is specialized and we need to acknowledge the fact that training (which can come in many shapes) matters.  The idea that archivists do their jobs because of a deep love for history/preservation makes me uncomfortable.  Many people do love their jobs and profession – but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be paid for their labour.

Volunteer and unpaid labour is also hugely problematic when talking about diversity with in the archival profession.  The profession is overwhelmingly white and is largely female.  When volunteering and unpaid internships are a core part of gaining professional experience and entry into the field you limit growth opportunities to those who can afford to volunteer.  Volunteerism and unpaid work is often tied to privilege and has a huge impact on limiting the field to those who can afford to work for little or no money.  Recently someone told me that they thought the best way to encourage more Indigenous people to enter the archival professional was to create volunteer positions specifically geared at Indigenous folks looking to gain experience.  If this is your strategy for increasing diversity you are doing it wrong and ignoring much larger systematic problems.

This post is more of a thoughts in progress post than anything.  The practices and circumstances in the archival profession continue to remind me of the advocacy work that needs to be ongoing.

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Material Voices at the Textile Museum of Canada

Textile

Bas-Relief panel by Hicks for architectural project, currently on display at TMC.

The second museum I decided to visit while in Toronto was the Textile Museum of Canada (TMC).  If you’ve been following this blog for awhile you know I get really exited about seeing textile arts in mainstream museum spaces – so visiting the TMC seemed like a logical way to build on that love.  The TMC is the only museum in Canad that “explores ideas and builds cultural understanding through the universally relevant media of textiles.”  The Museum is also well known for its education and interactive programming.

Unfortunately during my visit they were just in the midst of changing out one of the main exhibit spaces so the amount of content on display was substantially smaller than normal.  The main exhibit that I was able to see was Sheila Hicks: Material Voices.  The exhibition focused on the work of artist Sheila Hicks whose practice ranges from weaving to found object sculptures to large scale architectural installations.

This was a wonderful exhibit that included a wide range of Hick’s work in different mediums.  The exhibition also included a number of audio-visual stations some of which included films focusing on Hick’s practice and others explaining works on display by the exhibition curator.  I found the videos showing Hicks process for some of her large scale installation projects particularly interesting. I also just generally loved her art and her ability to use textiles in so many different ways. The exhibition is open until February 5, 2017 and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in textiles, mixed media art, or installation art.

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Exploring Ceramics at the Gardiner Museum

While in Toronto recently I had some time before my flight home, unsurprisingly I used that time to visit bookstores and heritage sites.  I was torn between all the possibilities in Toronto but opted to visit a couple of museums I hadn’t been to before.  The Gardiner Museum located in Toronto is Canada’s national ceramics museum.  Founded in 1984 by George and Helen Gardiner it was originally designed to house their collection of ceramic art.  Since the 1980s the collection has grown substantially and is now viewed as one of the most substantial collections of ceramics in North America.

Ground Floor

The ground floor of the Gardiner includes Modern/Contemporary ceramics, Ancient Americas, Italian Miolica and English Delftware.  There is also currently as small exhibition dedicated to Edmund De Waal and another one to Vimmy Ridge.  My favourite part of this floor was the numerous audio visual stations which included tablets where you could learn about different ceramic techniques, the historical significance of pieces on display, and about the collection more broadly.  I particularly enjoyed a video clip which showed an artist recreating an 18th century puzzle jug.  Puzzle jugs were used for drinking games in pubs and taverns and I found the whole idea and complexity behind them fascinating.  In case anyone else is interested (and because it’s just so cool), I’ve included the video which was created by the Victoria and Albert Museum below:

 Second Floor

Ceramic monkey orchestra

Ceramic monkey orchestra

This floor was dedicated to Japanese and Chinese porcelain and also included a substantial European porcelain gallery.  The narrative and historical context in the European gallery was extremely well done.  It placed ceramics within larger political and social movements.  It also really connected the narrative to the idea of a war of personalities and tangible excitement around the idea of collecting new types and styles of ceramics.  I found myself oddly invested in the text panels and wanting to know how the narrative concluded.  This gallery also included a number of slightly bizarre pieces of ceramics – weird looking cats and a monkey orchestra.  In more than one instance I found myself laughing out loud (and probably looking like a crazy person) at some of the stranger items.

True Nordic

Part of the True Nordic exhibition.

Part of the True Nordic exhibition.

The George R. Gardiner Special Exhibition Gallery is located on the third floor of the Gardiner.  At the moment this space is hosting True Nordic: How Scandinavia Influenced Design in Canada This space was by far the most crowded in the Museum and it was also my least favourite gallery.  The Nordic exhibition focuses on seven decades of Scandinavian influence on Canadian design.  It included ceramics, furniture, glassware, interior design pieces, and textiles.  The exhibition also incorporated a couple of National Film Board clips showing various Canadian artists at work – eg. a family making Nordic inspired ceramic light fixtures. I did really enjoy some of the textile pieces in this gallery – but I love almost any example of textile as art – so that probably isn’t too surprising.

Overall

I would recommend the Gardiner to anyone interested in ceramic art.  It’s not a huge museum and you can easily take it all in a couple of hours.  The gallery spaces were well laid out and had a variety of media incorporated to engage all type of users.  I also noticed that Sundays they do programming specifically geared at bringing children into the museum space which I’m always happy to see.

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Archival Professional Communities

At the start of November I participated in a meeting of Anglican Diocesan Archivists in Toronto.  Spread over two days the meeting was a chance for Diocesan Archivists to connect, talk about ongoing projects, and discuss professional challenges and triumphs.  Many of the archivists in the room have been serving as Diocesan Archivists for many years.  For me it’s somewhat of a new role. I’ve only been working as the Assistant Diocesan Archivist for the Anglican Diocese of Algoma since 2014/2015 – it’s one of the many hats I’ve had the opportunity to wear at Algoma and has provided a contrast to the community based archival practice that I’m involved in the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre side of things.

The meeting was a good experience and provided a chance to connect with archival colleagues in-person which I always find hugely beneficial.  Hearing about ongoing projects being undertaken at other archives provides inspiration and at times points for commiseration.  Having a network of people to bounce ideas off and to discuss larger profession wide opportunities for change can be a huge boon.  Similarly, I think speaking with archivists who are working in similar archives (in this case Anglican and often lone arranger) circumstances can be particularly useful for building professional communities and sharing resources.

I took a lot away from those two days of meetings and our discussions inspired a lot of introspection and questions around larger archival issues such as volunteerism, electronic records, and the term ‘decolonizing archives’.  Parts of my thoughts on those topics will likely appear in blog posts in the future.

I’m going to leave folks with a short video clip from the “Keep Anglicans Talking” series of Anglican Diocesan Archivist Melanie Delva speaking about reconciliation and her changing perceptions of Indigenous people.  Delva’s words speak directly to how working in an archive which contains records on residential schools can be a game and perspective changer. It is also a good starting point for larger conversations religious archivists need to be having around the TRC’s Calls to Action and archival practice.

 

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Professional Organizations and Finding Your Niche

soda.hotglue.meOne of my service gigs currently involves sitting on the membership committee of the National Council of Public History (NCPH).  If you’ve followed my blog for awhile you probably know that this is one of my favourite professional organizations and that their annual meeting is something I really look forward to.  I’ve served on the membership committee for a couple of years now and recently started acting as the co-chair of the committee.

As a committee we’ve been working on a handful of projects this year many of which revolve around making sure new members feel welcome to NCPH as an organization and to the annual meetings.  Professional conferences where you don’t know anyone can be intimidating – but they can also be amazingly rewarding experiences.  The first NCPH conference I attended was in 2012 in Milwaukee.  I went solo but knew other Western Public History alumni and students would be there.  Despite only knowing a few people at the conference it was a hugely welcoming experience where I felt like I belonged.  Granted, part of this had to do with my love of the NCPH meeting format and the flexibility of the sessions.  But it also had a lot to do with people just being helpful.

Conferencing, networking, and putting yourself out there can be exhausting – regardless of how many times you’ve done it.  As a new NCPH annual meeting attendee I found the mentorship program helpful in orienting myself with the conference. It also took me a little bit to find my group – archivists and museum professionals who define themselves as public historians.  But they existed and were welcoming.  I think that’s another reason I love NCPH there is a such a range of professionals who attend from community historians to academics that you’re bound to find your niche. NCPH also encourages technology usage during sessions – so if you’re on twitter that can be a great way to connect with other attendees.  I personally love the “Hey, I know you from twitter” moments.

What were your experiences as a new conference attendee or new member of a professional organization?  Did specific events make you feel welcome at a conference? I would love to hear other people’s perspectives on first time conference attendance and building relationships within a professional organization.

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Off The Record Issue on Archives and Indigenous Issues

The Archives Association of Ontario’s Off The Record open access issue on archives and Indigenous issues was recently released.  The issue includes a lot of great and insightful content including: three holdings profiles focusing on access to Indigenous-related materials and three feature pieces on various facets of the intersection of Indigenous communities and archives. Overall, it does an excellent job of showing some of diverse ways Indigenous people are represented in archives and how archives are handling discussions of reconciliation, access, and healing.

Full disclosure: the feature section includes a piece I wrote about my experience working at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre and working in a community based archive.  The cover also includes a photograph of the Shingwauk 1981 Reunion and one of the other features mentions the Archives of Ontario Family Ties 150 Exhibit and the SRSC content in that exhibit.

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Ten Books to Contextualize Reconciliation in Archives, Museums, and Public History

My latest post “Ten Books to Contextualize Reconciliation in Archives, Museums, and Public History” can be seen over at Active History.  The post looks at ten books and articles as a starting point for learning about reconciliation, residential schools and indigenous rights in the context of heritage organizations.

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Archivist Interview Series

14472397513_fce2765c1fMargaret Bond recently interviewed me as part of her ongoing Archivist Interviews seriesThe interview talks about my current job, how I came to work in archives, and one of my favourite archival finds.

It was a delight to work with Margaret on this interview and her ongoing series highlights a range of archival professionals in numerous different types of archives.

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Archives of Ontario Family Ties Exhibit

Yesterday the Archives of Ontario launched their sesquicentennial exhibit Family Ties: Ontario Turns 150Running until 2018 the exhibit looks at 150 years of Ontario and what Ontario was like at the point of confederation.  The onsite exhibit focuses on four family groups in Ontario during the confederation era.  One of those family groups is the Shingwauk family.  The exhibit section which focuses on the Shingwauk family and the Shingwauk Indian Residential School contains artifacts and images from the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC).

I couldn’t be happier about the SRSC content being included in this type of commemorative and educational exhibit.  Thousands of visitors and students will learn about the Shingwauk family through this exhibit and the Archives of Ontario educational programming.

Here’s a Storify of last night’s live tweet of the opening by the Archives of Ontario

 

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