Listening and Reading – Thunder Bay

Change written in neon lights

Last week after a two year investigation, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director released its review on the relationship between Indigenous people and the Thunder Bay Police Service (TBPS). The full 208 page report, “Broken Truth: Indigenous People and the Thunder Bay Policy Service,” is worth taking the time to read and reflect on.  At minimum I encourage everyone to read the executive summary.  The report sheds light on historical contexts in the land we currently call Canada and provides 44 recommendations for the TBPS.

Senator Murray Sinclair also recently released his final report on the Thunder Bay Police Services Board, at his recommendation the Ontario Civilian Police Commission has disbanded the policy services board for at least one year. This is an equally important report that I encourage people to engage with.

If reading reports isn’t for you, I recommend listening to Ryan McMahon’s Thunder Bay podcast. This five episode podcast talks about the history and current reality of Indigenous life in Thunder Bay.  As a warning, one of the episodes deals with underage sex trafficking and folks might find the entire series hard to listen to.  That being said, McMahon’s work is really important in terms of light it sheds on local politics, lived experiences, and centering Indigenous realities.

Photo credit: Ross Findon on Unsplash

Doing the work: Editing Wikipedia as an act of reconciliation

My latest piece, “Doing the work: Editing Wikipedia as an act of reconciliation“, written in collaboration with Danielle Robichaud is now up on On Archivy.  This piece developed out of an Archives Association of Ontario talk Danielle and I presented back in 2017 on “Collaborative archival practice: Rethinking outreach, access, and reconciliation using Wikipedia.”  The post looks at the how editing Wikipedia can be part of reconciliation efforts and includes tangible actions folks can take right now.

OER and Exploring Pressbooks

Cover of the Healing and Reconciliation Through Education Pressbook.
Cover of the draft Healing and Reconciliation Through Education Pressbook.

I recently starting working with Pressbooks as a way to develop an Open Educational Resource (OER) about residential schools and the history of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

For folks not familiar will Pressbooks, it is a publishing platform that you easily create ebook and print-ready files for printing physical books.  In Ontario, eCampus Ontario has a dedicated Pressbooks instance for folks at universities in the province who are looking to develop OER and open textbooks.   The platform is extremely user friendly, and if you’ve used WordPress you’ll find the navigation and content entry system very similar.  I love the idea of using digital tools to create accessible, open access material for students to use in the classroom.  I also think there is a ton of potential for archives to work with historians to provide primary source material for this type of project.

We’re still very much in the content development phase of this project; but it has been really interesting to think about ways to illustrate the unique history of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School site in connection to the larger residential school system.  This is a history that the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association and the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre have been collecting and discussing for decades. It’s also a history that has become past of my daily work for the past eight years, either through archival practice or educational outreach programming. The development of OER content has the potential to deliver this history in new ways and to expand the reach of this important work.

I’m also really seeing the benefit of using a platform which supports collaboration.  I’ve been able to bring in a number of conspirators  co-authors to this project and we have been able to jointly develop content and design. I also like the flexibility a digital platform provides – hyperlinks, embedded audio-visual, and photographs are some of the obvious advantages.  In the case of our project we’re also embedding primary source material held by the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.  It is allowing us to directly connect learns will archival records, archival photographs, and documents which are central to telling the history of the Shingwauk site.

I would love to hear what other public history and Canadian history folks are doing with Pressbooks, OER software, and open textbook development. What are you working on? What resources do you wish existed to support your students? 

Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall

Reclaiming shingwauk Hall poster

A permanent exhibition project I have been working on since 2012 is finally coming into fruition.  The first part of the Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall exhibition will open on August 3, 2018 and is dedicated to the generations of Survivors who attended Indian Residential Schools across the country.

Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall was developed and led by the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.  It has been a Survivor-driven reclamation of the former Shingwauk Indian Residential School and is a Healing and Reconciliation through Education initiative.   It will be housed on the third floor of Shingwauk Hall, a former residential school building that is now houses Algoma University. 

This opening of August 3rd will include three distinct gallery spaces:

We are all Children of Shingwauk Gallery: This space witnesses the comings and goings of hundreds of Indigenous children from communities near and far.  It features photos and stories of some of the earliest students of the Shingwauk school in its industrial phases, contemporary portraits and testimonies of Survivors, and ‘selfies’ of current Algoma and Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig students. Here, visitors will see how entire families were connected to the Shingwauk site and learn about the remarkable ongoing healing work that has taken place.

Life at the Shingwauk Home: an Indian Residential School Gallery: This gallery illustrates how a scattering of modest buildings on 90.5 acres of land acquired in 1874 for ‘Indian Education’ became an ever-expanding industrial school complex and home to hundreds of Indigenous children. It charts the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Schools’ transition from industrial to residential school through photographs, offering a glimpse of the day-to-day existence of children over the years of the schools’ operation.

From Teaching Wigwam to Residential School Gallery: This final gallery recounts the story of Chief Shingwauk and his vision to create ‘Teaching Wigwams’ as a means of sustaining Anishinaabe self-determination. This historical gallery, which begins in the late 1700s, traces the history of the first iterations of the teaching wigwam through the absorption of the Shingwauk Home into the Canada-wide Indian Residential School System.

I am tremendously happy to see this project come together and humbled to be a part of such inspiring and important work.

Indigenous Archival Material, Open Access, and Decolonization

Map of the united states

The Newberry Library recently released a digitized collection of early 20th Century drawings by the Lakota community.  These drawings are part of the Edward E. Ayer Collection which contains artworks, books, and other material relating to Indigenous culture.   These drawings were created in 1913-1914 and are now in the public domain.

Any press content I’ve read about the material focuses on how the digitization project reflects “the institution’s awareness of absences within its holdings, and represent important steps towards decolonizing the archives.” Similarly, any of the news coverage I have read focuses on how unique this material is, 40 of the drawings were created by Lakota children.

I kept reading these press releases and articles hoping that there was a mention of the Newberry working with Indigenous communities in developing access protocols and to provide copies of the material to the community. Not a single release mentioned working with the Lakota or any other Indigenous group. Rather, the press releases focus on the missionary who paid Indigenous people to draw the images and subsequent settlers involved in their collection.  Maybe I missed something. Maybe there was consultation. And if so,  I would welcome details on the collaboration.

Open access does not automatically mean decolonization. Indeed, in many cases Western understanding of copyright goes completely against Indigenous intellectual property rights and community ownership principles.  For folks looking to learn more about this I would suggest reading the First Nation Principles of OCAP and the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials. I would also recommend Allison Mill’s Archivaria article “Learning to Listen: Archival Sound Recordings and Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property.”

As many archival and heritage organizations begin to think about decolonization and reconciliation, Indigenous ways of knowing need to be incorporated into how we operate.  Indigenous people know what is best for their communities and their heritage. As archivists and heritage professionals we need to listen to those desires and needs.

Photo credit: United States of America compiled from the latest & best authorities. By John Melish, 1818. The Newberry.

Métis Nation of Ontario Root Ancestors Project

On April 24, 2018 Stacey Devlin of Know History presented a talk at Algoma University focused on the Métis Nation of Ontario Root Ancestors Project.  This fantastic project aims to increase resources and accessibility of information about the unique history and development of Métis communities in Ontario.

The Root Ancestors Project was developed based on feedback collected by the MNO in 2010/11.  The results of this consultation process can be found in ‘What We Heard’ report which includes suggestions relating to Métis identification and registration. One of the suggestions in this report focused on the development of easily accessible materials relating to Métis genealogy research and communities. The Root Ancestors Project stems from that 2011 recommendation.  I highly recommend folks explore the publicly available historical research and community based positing of the project.

Stacey Devlin’s talk provided an excellent walk through of the Root Ancestors Project and clearly laid out the ways in which the project combined archival research and community needs.  If you’re interested in learning more I’ve created a Twitter moment of my tweets from the event:

Annual Reports of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Homes

Our Indian Homes Annual Report cover page

I’ve recently been working with a batch of annual reports from the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Homes from 1877-1915.  The first part of these reports have been digitized, OCR’d and are now available to download as PDFs.   We’re still working with the reports from 1899-1915, but hope to have those available to the public by the end of the month.

Working with these reports has once again highlighted the challenges of working with colonial records, especially those which relate to historical trauma.  The annual reports in question were written by the school principals and they also contain statements written by the Bishop of the Diocese of Algoma.  They represent a very particular view of the residential school system, that of an Anglican missionary and organizations who were deeply invested in the assimilation of Indigenous communities.

The reports also offer photographs as snapshots of residential school life.  There are a number of images that repeatedly appear in the annual reports, often showing students working or in school uniforms to highlight the ‘success’ of the residential school system.  The annual reports included these photographs as evidence but also as a means of soliciting support for the residential schools.  The photographs, as well as items made by student at Shingwauk/Wawanosh, were listed as for sale in every annual report.

The use of student labour to sustain residential schools is well documented. The nuanced way in which schools packaged the images of the students for profit is something that is still being explored in the archival and historical profession.  In the case of the Shingwauk/Wawanosh Homes the student photographs were often paired with letters ‘written’ by students.  I put written in quotes because it is clear that these letters were form letters, that the students were instructed (or forced) to write. The letters talk about how good life at Shingwauk is, the great things the students were learning, and how much they liked school.  They are all similar in structure and tone, making the rote nature of the letters clear.

These letters were hard to work through as an archivist. They are a very vivid reminder of how little choice residential school students had. When combined with posed photographs these letters serve as a window into the assimilation and harm inflicted by residential school.

These records made me physically uncomfortable. But I was also reminded of their importance. The student lists included in the annual reports are some of the records we have of students at Shingwauk from 1900-1910. This scant evidence also speaks to challenges of the colonial record keeping system, the lack of material created from student perspectives, and the need to develop narratives using a range of historical sources.

As archivists and historians we need to talk about the emotional toll of working with records relating to historical trauma. We need to acknowledge the emotional and intellectual space it takes to process this material. We also need to think about how we are presenting this material to communities and the general public.  The need for health support within archives can be very real and something that needs to be fought for in the age of ever shrinking budgets.

Listening – Missing & Murdered: Finding Cleo

Samsung phone with white headphone, Google Play image on screen

Earlier in March season two of the CBC Missing & Murdered podcast launched.  Written and hosted by journalist Connie Walker, Missing & Murdered is an investigative style podcast focused on the lives of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Season one, which aired in 2016, focused on the life and death of Alberta Williams, who was murdered in 1898.  If you haven’t listened to the first season I highly recommend it.  It is hard to listen to at times, but it speaks important truths about MMIWG2S in Canada and the systemic barriers faced by Indigenous communities.

Season two, which has one episode left to air, focuses on the life and death of Cleopatra Semaganis Nicotine, known as Cleo.  Cleo was adopted into the United States in the 1970s as part of Saskatchewan’s Adopt Indian Métis Program (AIM) and the sixties scoop.  Her biological family was told Cleo died as a teenager but lacked any context of her life post-adoption or details about her death.  The podcast follows the family’s search for answers.

Similar to season one of Missing & Murdered, season two does an excellent job of contextualizing this one family’s loss. A number of the episodes include a discussion of the long term impacts of the sixties scoop, the racist advertising of the AIM program, and the impact of intergenerational residential trauma on family life.

I was particularly impressed with how much effort went into searching microfilm records and archival records to provide context to the history of the AIM program and the residential school experience of Cleo’s mother. This podcast provides a good entry point for folks looking to learn more about the sixties scoop and colonialism. It is an emotional and important listen that is well worth the time.

Anishinaabe Inendamowin Research Symposium

Row of people sitting taking notes at a conference

Last week I participated in the Anishinaabe Inendamowin (thought) Research Symposium held at Algoma University. The theme of this year’s symposium was “Weaving Meaningful Anishinaabe Research Bundles” and there was an emphasis on enriching academic research through Indigenous ways of knowing. The symposium included community knowledge holders, post-secondary students from all levels, and established Indigenous academic scholars. The symposium also provided Indigenous students at AlgomaU an opportunity to see the range of work being done by Indigenous professionals and to interact with established scholars. 

One of the things that stuck me about this conference was the richness of conversation across disciplines and silos. Students and established academics engaged with each other throughout the symposium and there was an emphasis on speaking personal truths in relation to research. For me, the symposium highlighted how much established scholars can learn from listening to students and non-academics. There is a tremendous amount of knowledge held by communities that is marginalized by academia. There are also valid concerns about Indigenous knowledge being appropriated or co-opted by academic settings. A number of the speakers expressed how they normally refuse academic speaking invitations because they do not feel welcomed in those spaces or feel the invitations are a form of tokenism. Organized by Indigenous academics and community members this symposium was an example of an effort to break down academic silos and build bridges between communities of knowledge.

A number of the presentations I attended focused on re-positing academic knowledge in conversation with community or traditional knowledge. There was an emphasis on seeing Indigenous traditional knowledge as worthwhile and as valid as Western ways of knowing. In the case of Naomi Recollect’s “Birchbark, memories, and language: Exploring museum collections containing Anishinaabek material” workshop Recollect positioned community members as the experts. She challenged the idea of museum curators and archivists as the only source of expertise in relation to material culture. This presentation was a fantastic example of the type of conversations Canadian cultural heritage organizations need to be having. How can we build relationships which position Indigenous communities in positions of power and experience in relation to their own material culture? How can collections be opened up and shared with the communities they represent?

The symposium left me with a lot to think about. I’m stilling working through everything I heard about the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge into classroom, administration, and cultural settings. I feel very fortunate to be at an institution that is openly engaging in these difficult and important conversations. These conversations are definitely ongoing but they need to start somewhere.

Photo credit: The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

Archival photographs in perspective: Indian residential school images of health

My latest article, “Archival photographs in perspective: Indian residential school images of health” is now out in the British Journal of Canadian Studies (volume 30, issue 2).  This article is part of a special issue edited by Evan J. Habkirk and Janice Forsyth focusing on health and the body at Canadian residential schools. Many thanks to Evan and Janice for all their work on this issue and for all of their assistance getting this article published. 

My article examines the use of archival photographs to supplement the historical narrative with an emphasis on using photographs of sport and recreation as a lens for examining student life, health and power dynamics within the residential school system.  This article draws on the idea of archival silence and critically evaluates present day usage of residential school images.  The article is based on my work with the Rev. Father William Maurice fonds held at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.  Within this fonds I examined photographs from the Spanish Indian Residential School series which is comprised of photographs of the residential schools located in Spanish, Ontario.  This series is a mixture of photographs taken by staff/administrators and photographs taken by students at the School.  The contrast of student and staff generated photographs provides an insight in the power dynamics present in archival photographs and the context behind residential schools images.

If you would like to read a copy of the article but are hitting a paywall please contact me.