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?
As 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.
My most recent post on archival literacy, learning archival research skills, and the role of universities in archival instruction can be seen over at Activehistory.ca. In this post I looked at the publicly funded English language universities in Canada to learn more about what type of archival skills are being taught at the undergraduate level and the role of university archives in providing archival instruction.
The workshop focused on the history of residential schools, the unique challenges of residential school archives, the TRC, and reconciliation more broadly. When planning this workshop I was a bit worried about the range of backgrounds that might be attending and how to include survivor experiences.
Typically when working with high school students at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre I have invited a survivor into the archive or classroom and students learn through their discussion with the survivor. In the case of this workshop the time constraint and location meant this wasn’t possible.
One of the activities I modified from the edu-kit focused on examining the before/after photographs of Thomas Moore. I used a different set of before and after photographs but employed the same type of questions to the workshop participants. Questions about identify, why the photographs were taken, and the impact of residential schools on culture all sparked meaningful discussion. This simple activity worked really well to introduce the topic of residential schools in an engaging manner.
I also incorporated an activity that allowed students to read a first-hand survivor statement about their experience in residential school. This activity brought home the importance of incorporating survivor experiences into the archival record and highlighted the impact of residential schools on individuals, communities, and all of Canada. Allowing students to speak about what they read in small groups and then as a larger group allowed for a range of participation and discussion.
I closed the workshop with a discussion of the Project of Heart and we debriefed while students decorated wooden tiles in memory of a residential school student. This artistic activity allowed me some time to interact with the participants on an individual level and check in on the feelings of the group. There were also a handful of teachers participating in the workshop and this activity served as an introduction into the Project of Heart and allowed me to invite them to engage their classes in the POH initiative.
Overall I was very please with how the workshop went. A short workshop is by no means long enough to cover residential schools in depth. But I feel as though participants left with a deeper understanding of the legacy of residential schools and many of them left with a desire to learn and do more.
As my last post indicated I’ve been thinking a lot about archival instruction and introducing students and other new users to archives. As part of this process I’ve been gathering resources that explain how archives are organized, introduce the basic of archival processing, and explain different aspects of archival theory.
Some of the best resources I’ve come across so far include:
Archives Association of British Columbia Archivist’s Toolkit. The toolkit provides resources for archivists on a range of archival topics including basic archival principals, uses of archives, and a range of outreach topics.
Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology created by the Society of American Archivists. The glossary contains more than 2,000 entries on a wide range of archival terms. I’ve used this resource when creating presentations to help explain terminology specific to archives.
Animating the Archives video series by Tate Gallery. The series explores the different facets and uses of archives. A number of the videos explore art based archives and the relevancy of archives to artistic and research practices.
Sharon A. Weiner, Sammie Morris, and Lawrence J. Mykytiuk argue that though archival research is generally accepted as a necessary part of historical study there is no standard set of archival research competencies which history students should learn.
Weiner, Morris, and Mykytiuk assert that there is a need for archival literacy, the teaching of archival research skills that can be applied across archival institutions, an understanding of archival principals and access, and understanding the nature and use of archival based evidence. The complete list of proposed competencies can be found in their article.
Most history students are not provided systematic instruction relating to archival research or archival literacy. Many history programs include a visit to the archive but these orientation sessions are often superficial and do not focus on the building of student skills. Personally, I had the opportunity in the third year of my undergraduate program to visit a local archives, become acquainted with the staff, and do a project that involved archival research. However even after that introduction to an archival repository I was still left with many questions around access and how to most efficiently approach archival research.
Now working within an university archive I see the importance of effective outreach and the need for archival instruction. Building relationships with students, faculty, and community members is essential and has the potential to benefit all involved. Library instruction has long been a mainstay of undergraduate education. In many cases archival instruction has a lot of catching up to do before it is as common place.
I’ve been back from parental leave for a bit over a month. When I left in October 2014 I was working as a Researcher/Curator in the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre. I spent a year and a half in that role and had the opportunity to work on a number of great creative projects. While in that position I also had the chance to brush up on project management, administrative, and exhibit skills. Some of the highlights involved working with many creative people, artists, and communities.
When I returned to work a month ago my position had fundamentally changed. I am now working as an Archives Supervisor and working with the archival collections held by the Arthur A. Wishart Library and the Shingwauk Residential Schools. This new position also has me working closely with the Anglican Diocese of Algoma Archives which are held at AlgomaU. The transition wasn’t unexpected. The timing of the transition just got pushed back to coincide with my return to work following my leave.
I’ve been enjoying getting reacquainted with archival processing, arrangement, and general archival work. Reference requests are back to being a major part of my work and I love getting to actually work with the holdings on a daily basis. On the public history and outreach front I’m still working with the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre to do educational tours, help plan the annual Shingwauk conference, and the Project of Heart education initiative. Lots of changes but all of the good kind.
During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today’s prompt: Hero: Who was your hero this year? Tell us why. What makes a hero in your eyes?
The residential school survivors I have had the opportunity to work with over the past few years are a constant source of inspiration. Many of these individuals are in their 60s, 70s, or 80s yet they continue to be advocates for awareness around the legacy of residential schools.
They were founding members of the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association and have promoted education and healing around residential schools since the mid 1970s. Many of these elders routinely speak about their residential school experience to indigenous and non indigenous audiences. For students of all ages this can be a powerful learning experience and is often the thing that makes them realize the lasting impact of residential schools.
These kind and generous people are heroes in my mind. They have worked tirelessly for years to raise awareness about residential schools and many have worked to promote healing within their own communities. I only hope I have nearly as much energy when I’m their age.