This 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.