Archives As Activism: The Case of Residential Schools

I’m on a podcast! Given my obsession with listening to podcasts it might not be surprising that I’m very excited to have been part of a podcast recording.

Recently Scott Neigh of Talking Radical Radio interviewed Skylee-Storm Hogan and I about the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, activism and archives, and more broadly about documenting social movements.  Our conversation was partially inspired by my recent Active History post on “Archives As Activism” which discusses some of the current trends around archiving and documenting social movements in Canada.

You can listen to the full episode online via the Rabble Podcast Network.

Kinda related: I would love to be part of an archives or Canadian history podcast — anyone want to team up to create some awesomeness? 

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Residential Schools and Present Day White Privilege

Chairs in a Classroom

Image used under CC0 Public Domain License.

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to listen to residential school survivor Mike Cachagee speak to a group of 90 grade eight students.  Over the past couple of years I’ve worked with Mike on a regular basis through the educational programming undertaken at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.  Mike often comes in to speak to students about residential schools, his experience as a survivor, reconciliation and colonialism. His talks are always a little different and each time I leave feeling grateful for his wiliness to share his experience and perspective in the classroom setting.

During Mike’s most recent talk when discussing colonialism and the corrosion of Indigenous communities through residential schools he made a direct connection between white privilege and the colonial system.  I was struck by how this is the conversation we need to be having in the classroom.  The Indian Act, the reserve system, residential schools, the 60s scoop and so many other instances of historical colonial policy have had a direct impact that is still being felt by Indigenous communities.  We know this.  But there is still a huge tendency to treaty these historical policies as things of the past despite the fact that they still have very real implications for Indigenous communities and Canadians at large. Colonial policies are closely related to so much of the white privilege that exists today – the land we live on, the current funding structure of education, the health care we receive and so much more is connected to historical policies.

During his discussion with the grade eight students Mike also highlighted the fact that he wasn’t trying to blame current white settlers for things that their ancestors did.  However, he was clear that the burden of building new relationships, changing policies going forward, and learning about the basics of colonialism and privilege lies firmly on the shoulders of white-settlers not marginalized communities.  The discussion of reconciliation is one that requires all sides to participate and settlers need to be doing the background work themselves.

I spoke with a handful of the teachers present during Mike’s talk and many indicated that the talk inspired them to take a look at how they are approaching residential schools in the classroom space.  One teacher indicated that they would be having a class discussion about how residential schools impact society today when they returned to the classroom. Personally, I know one way that we have often encouraged teachers to teach residential schools is to follow up with a conversation about present day impacts of residential school, a discussion of ongoing educational inequalities, and connect to social justice issues (such as Idle No More, MMIWG2S, or Shannon’s Dream).

How do you connect residential school history to present day realities in classroom?

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Listening: Historically Yours Podcast

podcast scrabble tiles

Image by Nick Youngson used under CC BY-SA 3.0

My podcast listening has changed drastically over the past couple of months – mainly because I’m no longer spending two hours a day in the car.  I’ve become a bit more selective in what I listen to and I’ve also changed up when I’m listening.  I’m now spending more time listening to podcasts while at the gym, walking, or doing physical processing while at work.  The fact that I’m occasionally listening while moving archival boxes around or labeling folders makes the Historical Yours podcast all the more perfect.

Historical Yours is a podcast created by the University of Iowa Libraries and Special Collections.  It is hosted by Outreach Librarian Colleen Theisen and each episode features Theisen and a guest who “will read one historic letter, research the context, and discuss the role of letter writing past and present.”  I love concept behind this podcast and it’s focus on a one off letter that has no associated context.  Each podcast is like a mini-historical research research project or scavenger hunt looking to provide context to a lone piece of correspondence.

The podcast is based on a unique collection held by University of Iowa of which is comprised of thousands of single letters.  The letters have zero context about who wrote them, who they were sent to, or who held on to them over the years.  Historically Yours draws attention to this collection but also tries to fill in some of the context that isn’t currently found within the thousands of letters in the collection. It’s a bi-weekly podcast with only a few episodes released so far but I highly recommend having a listen and I look forward to hearing more episodes as they are released.

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Indigenous people want museums to heed TRC’s calls to action

Sophia Reuss recently wrote an article on  how “Indigenous people want museums to heed TRC’s calls to action: Cultural institutions have an important role to play in Canada’s reconciliation process.”  Reuss’ piece looks at the role museums and archives play in caring for and presenting materials relating to Indigenous communities and the need to the heritage field to critically responsd to the TRC Calls to Action.

Reuss’ article incorporates comments from Jay Jones, the current president of the Children of Shingwauk ALumni Association and myself.  Jay and I both discuss the unique history of the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre and the important of Indigenous community perspectives in managing collections.  Jay and his entire family are an inspiration and I am constantly grateful to be able to work with them through my involvement with the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.

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AAO Tour: Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives

CLGA Reading Room

CLGA Reading Room

One of the highlights for me at this year’s Archives Association of Ontario conference was the tour of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA) located in Toronto. The CLGA was amazingly well represented at AAO with two of their staff members presenting, a site tour on the conference program, and numerous CLGA volunteers involved in the conference.

The CLGA tour included an interesting discussion of the history of the organization – the early grassroots connection to Pink Triangle Press, police raids of archival collections, and the challenge of gaining recognition as an archive and as a non-profit organization.  Jade Pichette, the Volunteer and Community Outreach Coordinate led the tour I was on and they did an excellent job of integrating stories of resilience, community history, and challenge into the tour.

It was also intriguing to see what the CLGA has done to cope with it’s location in a historic house and to work around challenges of space, lack of environmental controls, and accessibility. I love the fact that CLGA is also a community space and has partnered with other organizations to put on artistic performances in their space, allow meeting space to be used by community groups, and create other engagement opportunities within their space.  Similarly, I was impressed by the movement to reach people where they are – and put CLGA collections in other visible community spaces through exhibitions and programming.

The tour also allowed for a peak at the range of material held by CLGA.  The archive has an extensive archival collection but it also has a well developed library, poster collection, audio-visual holdings, portrait collection, vertical file/clippings collection, and a reading room.  The range of the material in the archive also speaks to the ephemeral nature of much Queer* history, the event orientation nature of some community collections, and the value of saving community memories associated with mediums other than paper.

Personally, I was also really happy to see that the CLGA tour also started with introductions and provided participants a chance to express their preferred pronouns. The CLGA staff were also very active on Twitter throughout the AAO conference and encouraged folks to add their pronouns to their name tags.

The seemingly small change to adding pronouns to name tags can be huge and can go a long way to make begin to make conference spaces more welcoming for trans, non-binary, gender fluid, and other folks. This is something I would really like more organizations to take note of include in plans for upcoming events.

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Indy Behind the Scenes: Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art Walking Tour

Eiteljorg Museum Sign

Public Domain image.

One of my favourite parts of every NCPH conference is the range of walking tours, museum visits, and behind the scenes tours to local heritage sites that are setup as part of the conference.  This year I participated in a tour of the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art.

This session included a guided tour through the museum’s gallery space by the curators.  It also included a look at the collection storage space guided by the collections staff.  The tour included a great combination of the museum’s history, challenges, current projects, and a look forward to future gallery plans.

The Etieljorg’s collection has expanded beyond the original donation of material by Harrison Eiteljorg to the museum. However its mission remains deeply connected to Harrison Etieljorg’s initial motivation, “to inspire an appreciation and understanding of the art, history and cultures of the American West and the indigenous peoples of North America.”  I found the first floor of the Etilejorg a bit jarring – I was anticipating a museum focused on Indigenous history and art and was confronted with Euro-centric depictions of the American West, with many of the paintings including racialized representations of Indigenous communities.

The impression of the first floor gallery space was not a good one.  I felt deeply uncomfortable in the space and imagine that this uncomfortable feeling would be much worse for anyone from an Indigenous community.  While walking through this space with Etilejorg space it was good to hear that renovation plans for this gallery space are in process and the museum hopes to improve the juxtaposition of Indigenous worldviews with Euro-centric artists.  One of the curators mentioned a desire to contrast Indigenous artistic representations of self with American West perspectives and the importance of providing more of an Indigenous voice throughout this gallery.  I really hope that this happens and that a critical look is taken at the American West art that is being displayed.

On the other hand I thought the second floor “Mihtohseenionki” (The People’ Place) exhibition space was extremely well done and provided an excellent example of a space that is curated with participation from local Indigenous stakeholders. This space is dedicated to exploring the heritage and present day relatives of the Indigenous people connected to the land now known as Indiana.  I particularlly liked the emphasis on this space of portraying Indigenous communities in the past and the present – of highlighting the fact that there are still vibrant Indigenous communities and culture in Indiana while raising awareness about forcible removable from land, diaspora, and the impacts of colonization.

One of my favourite cases in the “Mihtohseenionki” section was a case the mixed beaded moccasin artifacts with a contemporary art piece done by a local artist.  The art piece was a woven basket done in the traditional style, but it was made of painted printouts of the Land Removal Act, and had painted moccasins illustrating the dispersal of Indigenous communities.  The contrast of a new art piece with more traditional artifacts provided an interesting narrative on looking at the history and relatives of Indigenous communities in a holistic perspective and the need to be aware of the present and future realities of Indigenous people.  Staff indicated that they hope to explore more contrasting perspectives like this in upcoming exhibit revamps.

The other highlight of my visit to the Etieljorg was having an opportunity to see their collections storage space.  Suffice it to say it was downright amazing.  It’s beautifully organized, has great compact shelving, and they create custom boxes for most of their artifacts.  The custom build boxes and supports were really well done and and excellent example of preservation being built into the collection storage procedures.

If you’re ever visiting Indy I recommend taking time to visit the Etieljorg – even if it is just for the second floor gallery space.

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Collaborative Archival Practice: Rethinking outreach, access, and reconciliation using Wikipedia

I had a great time at the 2017 Archives Association of Ontario conference last week.  If you’re interested in the talk Danielle Robichaud and I gave relating to Wikipedia, archives, and reconciliation work our slides are now online.

It was great to meet Danielle in person (and yay for twitter connecting us virtually long before this conference). Many thanks to all who came to our talk.  If you have questions relating to our presentation, using Wikipedia in archives, or Wikipedia editing as reconciliation work feel free to reach out to either Danielle or I.

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AAO: Wikipedia and Reconciliation

Headed to the Archives Association of Ontario conference this week? Come join Danielle Robichaud and I on Friday April 28th from 2:30-3:15pm in session 6b.  We’ll be talking Wikipedia and reconciliation and sharing some of our experiences editing Wikipedia within the context of reconciliation.

I’m really looking forward to this talk and hope to see many Ontario archives folks at AAO this year. If you’re planning to be at AAO but you can’t come to our talk please feel free to say hello during the conference.

[Edited for typo fails]

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Tours of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Residential Schools Site

The third peice I wrote last year for Canada’s History is now up on their re-designed website.  My piece on “Tours of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Residential Schools Site” talks briefly about the history of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Indian Residential Schools, the range of historic site tours provided by the Shingwauk Indian Residential School, and the emotional impact which can be associated with these tours.

As the busy tour season approaches at Shingwauk I’ve been thinking a lot about the delivery of this programming and that role it plays in educating people about residential schools, colonialism, and Indigenous communities.

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Historian’s Histories Interview

Microphone

Public Domain Image

I was recently interviewed as part of the Historian’s Histories series on the fantastic Unwritten Histories site.

I am extremly greatful for the work that Andrea Eidinger does through her site and delighted to have been asked to particiapte in her interview series.  I talk about my history roots, my love for public history, and how I use a public history approach to my archives work.

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