Day3: Aboriginal History, the Value of Archives, and Confederation

Session 1: Aboriginal Oral History and Canadian Courts. This session dealt with the ongoing debate about the validity of using oral history in court trials. Christopher Bracken’s paper The Judge and the Pharmakon: Oral History and Aboriginal Rights was particularly interesting. Bracken examined the validity of oral history from a philosophical and literary perspective. The debate between writing and the spoken word have been going on since the time of Plato. All of the presenters highlighted the importance of understanding the difference between writing and oral histories and appreciating the uniqueness of each form of communication.

Session2: The First Draft of History: Archives, Archival Selection and the Determination of History. Despite the diverse topics which the papers in this panel covered, they were linked together by their focus on the use of archives. This session drove me to question the impact which filing systems, descriptions, archival organization, archival location, and who is keeping the records have on history. Archival material is a product of a social environment and cannot be viewed in isolation. During the discussion portion of this session a question was raised about the validity of private researchers using archival sources for litigation services. Dara Price of LAC answered this question in a commendable way. She pointed out that conducting research for profit and for a specific purpose is nothing new, and that archives have often been used by private researchers. This session reinforced the importance of being critical of archival material and contextualizing sources.

Session 3: Authority, Aboriginality, and Expertise. The papers in this session were linked by their emphasis on aboriginal agency. All three presenters focused on the relationship between governments and aboriginal peoples. I found Martha Walls’ paper on Exploring Federal Culpability in Residential Schooling particularly interesting. Walls examined the relationship of day schools and residential schools in the Maritimes. She suggested that the poor state of day schools, assisted the government in coercing First Nations into the residential school system. Overall, this session highlighted the linked relationship between first nation peoples and government decisions, and the way in which First Nations have frequently adapted to changing circumstances.

Session 4: Constructing Confederation and Constructing the Nation. All three presenters examined a different aspect of confederation. These papers were a combination of traditional political, social, and cultural history. Andrew Smith’s paper suggested that technology played a substantial role in the advancement of confederation. Ruth Frost examined Immigration policy following confederation, the role which immigration played in constructing the Nation. Bradley John Miller examined Copyright and the Constitutional Order. This session examined confederation and the the nation from a variety of prospectives, all of which were well presented.

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