Listening: Who Killed Alberta Williams?

In December 2016 I listened to “Missing and Murdered: Who Killed Alberta Williams?” a CBC podcast by Connie Walker.  The podcast focuses on the 1989 death of Alberta Williams on the Highway of Tears near Prince Rupert, British Columbia.  The podcast also discusses Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirits (MMIWG2) in Canada and the history of the Highway of Tears.  Episode four of the podcast also explores the legacy of residential schools and the long term impacts of residential schools on Indigenous communities, families, and individuals.

This eight part podcast was similar in style to the popular Serial Podcast which used investigative journalism to look at a cold case.  I’d also add a warning that it’s not an easy listen and has content that could be triggering to some folks.  That being said I think Alberta’s experience, the experience of her family and of so many other MMIW is an experience that needs to be talked about and needs to receive more media coverage.

A Grade 8 teacher in Saskatchewan used the “Who Killed Alberta Williams?” podcast as a teaching tool in his classroom.  In that case students responded to the podcast through journals and conversations.  I could also see the podcast being used as resource at the high school or post-secondary level as a means of starting conversations about MMIW, residential schools, and colonialism.

Reflection: 2016 Accomplishments

1469923511-mc-hp-1For the past few years I’ve reflected on my professional practice and accomplishments at the end of the year.  I’m going to continue that tradition with this blog post albeit in a slightly more list based format than the reflective posts I’ve done in the past.

In 2016 I did a lot of things including:

Talks and Presentations

  • In March I spoke as part of aFinding the Embedded Archivist” panel at the National Council for Public History annual meeting in Baltimore, MD.
  • This year I provided instructional programming to over 1,250 people.  The bulk of these instruction sessions related to residential schools, the history of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School, and reconciliation.  However a handful were also related to teaching about archives and archival literacy.
    • As part of this work I’ve taken a serious look at how I present residential school history and revamped my instruction practices to make sure I’m giving priority to Indigenous voices.

Committee Work

  • I was appointed as the co-chair of the membership committee for the National Council on Public History
  • In August I was appointed to the Steering Committee on Canada’s Archives (SCCA) – Response to the Report on the Truth and Reconciliation Task Force.   I am really honoured to be part of this committee and engaged in this important work relating to Indigenous communities and archives.

Outreach

  • I started seriously editing Wikipedia.  This was a bit of a rabbit hole for me – it initially started as a way to expand some of the archival outreach I do and evolved into a hobbie and something I really enjoy. I also organized a small edit-a-thon at Algoma University geared toward increasing content relating to Indigenous women on Wikipedia.
  • I spearheaded the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre’s contributions to the Archives of Ontario Family Ties: Ontario Turns 150 exhibition.
  • I curated and co-curated a number of smaller scale exhibitions on campus including one about local author Brian Vallée, and one focusing on Indigenous Women Activists and the Water Walk movement.
  • I setup and have been maintaining social media accounts for the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre. I also learned a bit more about different tools to help schedule and manage this outreach work.

Self-Care and Other Priorities

  • I kept with my commitment to make my physical health a priority.  I’ve been consistent in going to the gym on a regular basis and have been trying to eat better.
  • After much years of debate my partner and I made a decision to move.  We’ve bought and house and will be moving in 2017.  This move will mean I’m much closer to my work, it will cut down my commute significantly, and result in me getting to spend more time with my daughter.
  • I’ve been meeting regularly as part of two writing groups – an academic one (online) and a non-fiction group.  Both of these have been key in keeping me motivated on some ongoing projects.
  • In November I was honured to stand beside my sister as during her wedding.
  • I’m raising a funny, energy filled 2 year old who can identify Doctor Who on my t-shirts and who loves playing tea time.

At the end of 2016 I am very grateful for great colleagues, a community of public historians who energize and inspire, and challenging conversations.   Onward.

Doing The Work: The Historian’s Place in Indigenization and Decolonization

My most recent piece is a collaborative post with Skylee-Storm Hogan over at Active History.  The post, “Doing The Work: The Historian’s Place in Indigenization and Decolonization“, looks at the prevalence of the terms Indigenization and decolonization in recent post-secondary conversations.  It also examines meaningful ways in which historians can decolonize and Indigenize their practices.

I am extremely grateful to Skylee-Storm for her contributions on this piece.  I really appreciate her voice and perspectives and it was a delight to work with her on this piece.

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

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.

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

 

Self-location and Concepts of Place

During a recent workshop on active archives and archives in the classroom my co-presenter brought up the idea of using self-location as a starting point for talking about residential schools and reconciliation. In subsequent days I’ve had a few conversations with colleagues about the value of using self-location as an instruction tool and how it can be used in teaching history.

The fact that the university I work at is located on the site of two former residential schools can deeply shape how conversations about place unfold. The history of the institution is directly tied to the legacy of residential schools.  How students, visitors, and faculty interact with spaces on campus today says a lot about how the site evolved from a residential school and the fact that the physical space has tangible connections to the past.  How people interact with campus history can be emotional, triggering, and challenging.  But we need to have those difficult conversations and  talk about how the legacy of residential schools interacts with the space we occupy as an institution.

Self-location can be a simple but nuanced a way to discuss how individuals came to be in a place, connections to a physical space and concepts of community.  Where did you come from? How and why did you come to this place?  What is your relationship to this place?  How do you define community in relationship to this place?

In terms of reconciliation discussions about self-location can be a starting point for conversations about land, marginalization, and colonization.  It can also help in the acknowledgement of what background experiences are being brought into a dialogue.  This is also a great way to start conversations about local history, community history, and Canadian history more broadly.  I could also see self-location discussions being shaped to fit students at a variety of education levels depending on how the conversation is framed.

Have you used the idea of self-location as discussion tool before?

Interactive History: Indigenous Perspectives and the Blanket Exercise

BlanketsAs part of Orientation Week at AlgomaU students, staff, faculty and community members were invited to participate in the KAIROS blanket exercise.  Originally developed in the 1990s as a response to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples the blanket exercise is a participatory teaching too that invites participants to learn about Canadian history from an Indigenous perspective.  The exercise has been updated since the 1990s to include information on more recent events such as Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Shannon’s Dream.

The exercise teaches about the impacts of colonialism, the loss of Indigenous land, residential schools, the sixties scoop, and numerous other facets of Canadian history that are not often taught in a classroom setting.  The visual representation of Turtle Island through the use of blankets, the physical act of participants representing Indigenous people and watching the spacial and visceral damage that is caused by colonialism is a really moving and had a huge impact on participants.

This is a very unique teaching tool that can be scaled to different age groups and number of participants.  I particularly liked how the session I participated in combined the national historical perspective with local responses and local experiences.  A local First Nation Chief spoke about his community and the removal of resources from their land and a Shingwauk Residential School Survivor shared their experience at Shingwauk as part of the exercise’s narrative.

Given the potentially triggering nature of the content health and cultural support was available throughout the event and the scripted portion of the exercise was followed by a sharing circle which allowed participants an opportunity to reflect on the exercise and discuss the experience.  Overall I think this is a great teaching tool that should be brought into more classrooms, community centers, and university campuses as a way of talking about history, ongoing inequality, and reconciliation.

Shingwauk Gathering – the 2016 Edition

Poster2016FinalThis past weekend the Shingwauk Gathering and Conference was held at Algoma University.  This event grew out of the 1981 Shingwauk Reunion and invites survivors, inter-generational survivors, those engaged in reconciliation and healing work, and community members to gather, share, and learn.  This year the theme of the Gathering was “Fulfilling the Vision” and focused on present day responses to carrying out Chief Shingwauk’s Vision of teaching wigwams.

Since beginning to work at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC) in 2010 I’ve been fortunate to be part of five Gatherings.  My role in the organization of the Gatherings has varied greatly from year to year.  Sometimes I acted solely as an archives staff person supporting the work through helping with research requests, other years I helped planned special exhibits for the weekend or helped coordinate the schedule, and other year’s I’ve been responsible for most of the logistical planning of the event.

Most of this work falls under ‘other duties as assigned’ type work and is something I do outside my normal archival related duties.  There were a number of comments during this year’s Gathering that resonated with me about the nature of this work:

  • “I had no idea that working in an archive could be so physical.” -Setup volunteer.
  • “What do you do the rest of the year when you aren’t organizing this event?” -Participant who was treated to an explanation of archival work.
  • “You need a fit-bit.” -Participant, after seeing me walk back and forth the length of the school multiple times.

Holding this type of conference is a huge amount of work.  But every year I’m left with a feeling that I’ve contributed to something meaningful.  The healing work that takes place during the conference is important.  The event also continuously highlights the importance of the archival collections at the SRSC in documenting the residential school experience and the healing movement.  Every year there are survivors or intergenerational survivors who are returning to the Shingwauk IRS site for the first time.  Being able to share with them the history of the site, photographs of the school and possibly photographs of themselves at Shingwauk is an amazingly powerful experience.

For the past couple of years the Gathering has also included youth programming.  In this case youth is very broadly defined and tends to include anyone ~35 and younger.  This programming is some of my favourite to sit in on, hear about, and help plan.  It’s inspiring to see young people engaged in community work, reconciliation, and learning about the history of residential schools.  It’s all important work and the involvement of the youth gives me hope that the legacy of the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association and other survivor based groups will continue for generations.

Regardless of how I’ve been involved at every Gathering I’ve learned something new about residential schools, the survivor experience, and the realities of Indigenous life in Canada.  I’m grateful to be welcomed in this space and the lessons I’m continuously learning are important for anyone engaged in archival work that documents residential schools or Indigenous communities.  We need to work together as engaged scholars and engaged archivists and learning is the first step toward that.

Facing the Past

The August/September issue of Canada’s History magazine contains a short piece I wrote about the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre‘s Remember the Children Photo Identification Project.  This project aims to help connect survivors, families, and communities with residential school photographs.  It also strives to identify the unnamed students pictured in so many residential school photographs.  This is one of the most popular projects undertaken by the Centre and I am constantly grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of it.