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.

Reflecting on Camping and the Parks System

Group of women carrying a canoe overhead

Unidentified group of women carrying a canoe, Winnipeg, 1940s. Library and Archives Canada. MIKAN 4328425

I’ve went camping twice this summer and stayed at three Provincial Parks in Ontario as part of that experience.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the complicated nature behind the parks system, the dispossession of Indigenous people from parks and the lack of acknowledgement of the traditional usage of the land by Parks.  None of the parks I visited this year had signage about the history of the park or about the park’s relationship to the local Indigenous communities.

Last year I visited Pukaskwa Nation Park.  It is the only Park I’ve visited to date that is actively working with the local First Nation community to reinterpret the site and to include a discussion of the community’s history on the land. Pukaskwa’s staff included an Indigenous Cultural Interpreter – who was from Pic River First Nation, the local First Nation community that was impacted by the creation of Pukaskwa.  The were also in the process of creating an Anishinaabe Camp for cultural programming and the “Bimose Kinoomagewanan” trail signage was created by local elders and youth from Pic River.

Pukaskwa serves as one example of parks addressing their problematic past.  I would be interested in knowing of any other examples out there.  As visitors what can settlers do to encourage more critical interpretation? As a first step speaking with the folks staffing the visitors centre and interpreters to ask them about what they know about the park’s history can help.  If they don’t mention the traditional Indigenous territory of the land ask why. Ask them why there is no discussion of the land prior to the park being established and if there is any plans to change that.  Talk with the people you are camping with – have those important conversations about land and history – even if it makes you or them uncomfortable.

For additional context I would suggest reading Anne Janhunen’s The Holiday Spirit Will Prevail’: Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Erasure in Ontario’s ‘Cottage Country‘ presentation and Robert Jago’s “Canada’s National Parks are Colonial Crime Scenes.”

Shingwauk Historical Site Tours

Since 2010 part of my job has included providing historical site tours focusing on the history of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Indian Residential Schools that were located on the site which now houses Algoma University.

In the past few years I have been giving between 80-100 tours to a range of audiences, including : K-12, post-secondary students, community groups, professional development groups, government employees, and others. These tours are often paired with an education presentation , a talk from a residential school survivor, or a hands-on educational activity. The tours aren’t meant to provide a complete historical narrative but rather serve as a starting point for discussing the history of residential schools in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and Canada more broadly.

A glimpse of what the average tour includes can be seen in the “Where You Live: Shingwauk Historical Tour” video recently created by Shaw TV Sault Ste. Marie.

Sharing, Healing and Learning: Survivor Driven History

Shingwauk rEsidential School

Shingwauk Residential School, circa 1960. Source: Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.

My latest piece “Sharing, Healing and Learning: Survivor Driven History at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre” was recently published in Education Forum the magazine of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF).

The article discusses the history of the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC), the importance of shifting the historical narrative to the Survivor point of view, and the idea of the SRSC as a living archive focused on engagement.  This engagement piece is something that is very dear to my heart and is at the core of my public history and archival practice.

Writing with Education Forum was a great experience.  Many thanks to editor Michael Young for the opportunity and his support throughout the process.

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? 

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?

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.

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.

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.

Today: Indigenous Storytellers WikiThon

An Indigenous Storytellers Edit-A-Thon is being held Tuesday April 4, 2017 3 – 7 PM PDT.  The event is being hosted by UBC and Concordia is dedicated to revising and creating entries on Wikipedia for Indigenous storytellers, with an emphasis on those working in film and theatre in Turtle Island. There are on-site options for participation at both schools and there is an option for folks to participate remotely.

The event invites community members to participate locally or remotely and is also involving students from classes at UBC and Concordia.  I love the idea of making an edit-a-thon part of a class assignment or an in-class activity.  I also love that this event is lifting up Indigenous artists and Indigenous community based organizations.  Interested in participating remotely? Add your name to the participant list on the event meetup page.