Challenging Colonial Spaces: Reconciliation and Decolonizing Work in Canadian Archives

silver typewriter in shallow focus photography

My latest article, “Challenging Colonial Spaces: Reconciliation and Decolonizing Work in Canadian Archives,” can now be found in the Canadian Historical Review.

For interested folks, here is the abstract for the article:
As historians and the public engage with, address, and teach the history of residential schools, it is important to look at how that history has been recorded, taught, and preserved in Canada. The examination of archival structures illuminates the incompatible nature of many archival practices and Indigenous ways of knowing. Set within a context of reconciliation efforts, this article seeks to highlight existing colonial frameworks within the Canadian archival system and explore the impact of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada on Canadian archival practices.

Photo credit: Peter Lewicki on Unsplash

Tri-University Annual History Conference Keynote

Title slide for talk

I am delighted to share that I was the keynote at the Tri-University Annual History Conference on March 9, 2019 in Guelph.  The theme for this year’s conference was “In Small and Large Things Remembered’: Material Culture and History.” Continue reading Tri-University Annual History Conference Keynote

#1Lib1Ref Initiative

The #1Lib1Ref (One Librarian, One Reference) initiative is running January 15 – February 3, 2017.  The project targets librarians and information professionals and encourages them to engage with Wikipedia by improving citations and adding citations to existing pages.  The skills required to add citations draw on a lot of the research and reference skills that librarians excel at and adding a citation is an easy way to start editing Wikipedia.

Earlier this month via Arcan-L Danielle Robichaud reminded the Canadian archival community that archivists have similar skills and resources which can be used to contribute to the #1Lib1Ref initative.  Danielle suggested that archivists include citations from:

  • reference resources held in your reading room that are not currently available online; [i]
  • historical newspapers you have on hand in clippings files, on microfilm/fiche or as part of paid subscriptions;[ii]
  • print resources that your organization has digitized and have made available online or through the Internet Archive; [iii]
  • digital versions of finding aids, news features or journal articles that pertain to the topic at hand that have not been used elsewhere in the page.

I whole heatedly agree with Danielle and would encourage both librarians and archivists to become involved.  I have been working away at contributing citations to Wikipedia pages relating to residential schools, Indigenous activists, and members of the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association.

New to Wikipedia and unsure where to start? The #1Lib1Ref page has a basic outline of the steps required to add a citation using either the visual editor or source editor in Wikipedia. You can also check out the visual editor guide or the short introduction tutorial. More importantly I would just suggest diving in and trying things out.  Citations are a really easy way to improve Wikipedia and the learning curve is relatively easy, even if you have never edited a page before.

On a citation spree and want to get folks at your place of work or a group of information professionals involved? There’s a “Coffee Kit” page that provides guidelines for organizing an event around #1Lib1Ref.  There are also lots of other suggestions of other ways to engage your library/archive with the wider Wikipedia community.


[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edna_Haviland#cite_note-Russell-1
[ii]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thiele#cite_note-KWRBrief-9
[iii]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Indian_residential_school_system#cite_note-Bryce1906-38

Performing Archive: Digitizing and Contextualizing Edward S. Curtis Photographs

Performing Archive: Edward S. Curtis + “the vanishing race” is the result of a three-month pilot project undertaken by the Claremont Center for Digital Humanities. The project is focused on the well known and controversial collection of photographs of Indigenous communities and people that were created by Edward S. Curtis in the early 20th Century.  Curtis is perhaps most known for his published work The North American Indian and for his work photographing Indigenous people because of his belief that they were a “vanishing race.”

The use of Curtis’ photographs is currently controversial because of the context behind them – they are representative of colonial relationships, often very staged, and representative of a fundamental lack of understanding of the communities they portray. As the Performing Archive essay “Vanishing Race and Canon de Chelly” by Ken Gonzales-Day notes “In many cases Curtis encouraged his models to stage, restage, or perform dances or ceremonies out of season and out of context, but Curtis believed that performing for the camera could serve as a way of preserving cultural traditions while there was still a living memory of them. The staged images were often paired with titles created by Curtis which further emphasized his perspective of Indigenous communities as vanishing and as ‘others.’

The Performing Archive initiative digitally brings together archival material relating to Curtis from Claremont Colleges Honnold-Mudd Library Special Collections, Northwestern University, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian by way of the Digital Public Library of America, and the University of Indiana Bloomington Archives of Traditional Music. The project brings together “nearly 2,500 items related to Curtis and his ethnographic and photographic work with western American and Canadian tribes” and also “brings together a number of new scholarly works designed to facilitate teaching with Curtis’ work.”

I think it is crucial to note that the Performing Archive aims to contextualize Curtis’ images and to present them in a way that critically engages with the context of the creation, preservation, and current day usage.  The site aims to unpack the relationships of authority in the images and provides critical essays to critically engage students and casual viewers who come across the content.  The essays written by Ken Gonzales-Day unpacking the creation and use specific images are extremely well done and insightful.  However, I do worry about viewers skipping this important part of the website and diving headfirst into the images without that important piece of context.  That being said the site navigation is setup in such a way that the introduction and critical essays are displayed first making it more likely that visitors will engage with that material prior to simply searching for photographs.

I also really enjoyed the sections of the site which examined the archival and visualization implications of Curtis’ images and the digitization of these works.  The project has also looked into using data analysis and data visualizations to examine the relationships between photographs and the communities the represent.  In the site essay “Conclusion: The Archive and the Technology of Race” David J. Kim notes that “The approach we have taken with the network representation of Curtis’ images and his social network is an attempt to unveil the history of visual documentation as technology of establishing the “what of” and the “knowing” of, or the essence of, Native Americans, as well as the history of how the scientific discourse of race has made the category of Native Americans archivable and archived in the early twentieth century.”  Performing Archive does an excellent job of critically examining and exploring it’s own processes and the cultural implications of these approaches to Curtis’ work.

This is a hugely interesting project and I’m amazed at how much material is here considering it was developed out of a three month pilot project.  I also think that this is a crucial work examining the historically context around colonial photography from archival and historical perspectives.  One red flag for me about the project was that the section on partnerships with Indigenous communities was very limited.  By the sounds of it there is plans that this part of the initiative will grow, and I really hope it does as working with the Indigenous communities represented in the photographs is hugely important.  Similarly I’m always slightly uncomfortable seeing Curtis’ images published anywhere – be they in a book or on a website – I think the contextualization done by Performing Archive mitigates that somewhat but without Indigenous community support this initiative has the potential to repeat colonial relationship structures.

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.

Archivist Interview Series

14472397513_fce2765c1fMargaret Bond recently interviewed me as part of her ongoing Archivist Interviews seriesThe interview talks about my current job, how I came to work in archives, and one of my favourite archival finds.

It was a delight to work with Margaret on this interview and her ongoing series highlights a range of archival professionals in numerous different types of archives.

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

 

Organization Social Media Accounts

MediaFor the past number of years I’ve been managing the Activehistory.ca social media accounts, namely Twitter and Facebook.  Since the fall I’ve also been managing Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr accounts for my work.

The accounts are somewhat different in nature.  The Active History accounts are primarily used to promote new website content, so I don’t have to be overly creative in my posts other than writing captions, pulling quotes, or selecting accompanying images.  On the other hand the archives social media accounts are pretty wide open – they can cover ongoing projects, events, draw attention to digitized content, and basically anything else I can think of.

In both cases I’ve found a few different ways to make the process more manageable:

  • Schedule content.  In the case of Facebook and Tumblr you can pick the time and date of posts and schedule them in advance.  I find this a huge help, it lets me put together posts when I have the time and have them appear later on at appropriate intervals. For twitter I tend to use TweetDeck to manage content, and that platform also has a scheduling feature.
  • Hashtags are your friends.  Hashtags connect new audiences to your content. Andrea Eidinger recently wrote a great summary of hashtags for Canadian historians if you’re interested in learning more.
  • Theme days are also your friends. #MinitureMonday, #TinyTuesday, #WordlessWednesday, #InternationalBookDay, #Caturday etc are all easy ways to promote existing content on a regular basis while attaching your organization to a larger social media movement.
  • Take photographs of what you’re doing and share them.  Photographs of events, new donations, processing, and photographs of all that day-today work GLAM professionals do can be a way to provide a behind the scenes look at your organization and also explain to people what work actually goes on in an archive.
  • Start collecting content for future posts.  Most GLAM organizations have a lot of existing digitized content that is great for sharing on social media.  If you come across interesting photographs, letters, books etc make a reference of them or save a copy for future use on social media.  This is an easy way to build up a backlog of ideas that you can pull from for future posts.
  • Don’t be afraid to try different things.  Experiment with what days and times you post different types of content.  Try new hashtags or new approaches to presenting content.
  • Use some type of analytics.  Many social media platforms come with basic stats built in.  But it’s sometimes helpful to add Google Analytics or something similar to the content you’re creating so you can measure how your content is being accessed and used.

Re-writing Wikipedia

ReWriteWikipediaPosterAs I mentioned earlier the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC) is currently hosting ““A Lifetime – Day by Day, Five Women and Their Diaries”the travelling exhibit from the Archives of Ontario and a locally curated companion exhibit “Indigenous Women Rebuilding A Nation.”

As part of the the Indigenous Women Rebuilding A Nation exhibit the SRSC will be hosting an event titled “Rewriting Wikipedia.”  On June 20, 2016 this event aims increase the prevalence of content relating to Indigenous women online. The event aims to re-write Wikipedia to include Indigenous women in historical narratives not only as wives, daughters, aunts, and sisters, but also as leaders with their own identities and stories. The event is free of charge, open to all and no experience with Wikipedia is required. Drop-ins welcome.  More details are available on the Facebook Event Page and in the Press Release.

As you might have noticed I’ve been writing a fair bit about Wikipedia recently.  Since January I’ve been slowly becoming more engaged with the Wikipedia community and have been inspired by the range of possibilities that are available for the GLAM sector on the platform. The idea to hold a Wikipedia edit-a-thon and get the local university community engaged with Wikipedia came from watching the great work of Danielle Robichaud and the Archives Association of Ontario had at their last Wikipedia event.

The idea was also partially motivated by the profound realization that Indigenous Women are greatly underrepresented on Wikipedia.  Indigenous Women fall in the intersection of two underrepresented groups on Wikipedia and the SRSC holds numerous archival holdings that relate to Indigenous women and their work.  I also owe a lot of thanks to the wonderful SRSC Student Assistant Skylee-Storm Hogan who’s enthusiasm and connections to the student population have been key in getting this idea going.  I’m fortunate to work so many inspiring and talented Indigenous women on a daily basis.