AlgomaU Profile: Decolonizing and Indigenizing the Academy

My fantastic co-worker Skylee-Storm Hogan and I were recently profiled as part of Algoma University’s ongoing efforts to highlight the great work going on at the university.

The profile focuses on our work relating to decolonization and indigenization with an emphasis on the “Doing The Work: The Historian’s Place in Indigenization and Decolonization” Active History piece we wrote in December 2016.

I’m delighted to have had the chance to work with Skylee-Storm over the past couple of years and thrilled to see the work of the archives staff garnering some attention.

AAO: Toward Truth and Reconciliation

Today the Archives Association of Ontario (AAO) announced the first of two web pages “aimed at supporting the Truth and Reconciliation process and improving access to Indigenous focused archival and cultural resources.”  Toward Truth and Reconciliation is a page dedicated to “assisting Ontario’s archival community to navigate the path toward the decolonisation and Indigenization of our practice” and contains a list of open access resources relating to the TRC, decolnisation, Indigenous issues, and the intersection of archives/Indigenous communities.

The list is well worth a look for anyone interested in learning more about how the AAO is responding to the TRC’s Calls to Action and steps the archival community can take to decolonize and Indigenize their practices.  This list is ongoing and the first part of a larger project so I imagine it will evolve and be added to over time.  General comments and suggestions for improvements on the project can be directed to the AAO Web Administrator.

Full Disclosure: The list includes a link to my place of work as one of the Indigenous cultural heritage resources in Ontario, a blog post I wrote for Active History is included as a resource, and the Off The Record: Archives and Indigenous Issues publication listed also contains a piece I wrote about working at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.  The page also contains a couple of my favourite pieces which I frequently recommend to folks interested in learning more about Indigenous communities, archives, and reconciliation.

Off The Record Issue on Archives and Indigenous Issues

The Archives Association of Ontario’s Off The Record open access issue on archives and Indigenous issues was recently released.  The issue includes a lot of great and insightful content including: three holdings profiles focusing on access to Indigenous-related materials and three feature pieces on various facets of the intersection of Indigenous communities and archives. Overall, it does an excellent job of showing some of diverse ways Indigenous people are represented in archives and how archives are handling discussions of reconciliation, access, and healing.

Full disclosure: the feature section includes a piece I wrote about my experience working at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre and working in a community based archive.  The cover also includes a photograph of the Shingwauk 1981 Reunion and one of the other features mentions the Archives of Ontario Family Ties 150 Exhibit and the SRSC content in that exhibit.

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.

Stewarding Collections of Trauma

The Fall 2015 issue of Archivaria included “Stewarding Collections of Trauma: Plurality, Responsibility, and Questions of Action” by Lisa P. Nathan, Elizabeth Shaffer, and Maggie Castor.  The article looked broadly at efforts to manage archives that contain material relating to historical trauma and more specifically at the work of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR).

As the authors point out there are a lot of ethical and professional questions around how work with materials relating to trauma should be done.  Collections of trauma in this instance have been defined as intentional collections relating to violent and disruptive histories and the resulting aftermath of those histories.  The complexities of residential school archives and the NCTR collection are varied and archivists are still working to determine how best to work with this material.

In particular, I found the article’s section on “Incorporating Distrust” insightful to current challenges.  The authors note that, “The same juridical and political systems that conceptualized, created, managed, and perpetuated the harms of the Indian residential school system continue to be forces that shape the work of the NCTR.  Canadian universities contributed to the running of the Indian residential schools (eg. training teachers); one such university now hosts the NCTR” (p.115).  Many of the same colonial systems that were involved in the residential school era are now involved in the administration of reconciliation policies and the administration of archival collections relating to residential schools.  How does an archive existing within this system acknowledge this challenge and respond appropriately.

This tension is something I’ve felt while working within a residential school archive that is housed in a university and is jointly governed by a university.  The Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre is slightly different – being founded through the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association and jointly managed by a survivor group.  But, it’s physical home is within a university and it exists within a very similar framework as the NCTR.  As the authors argued there is a need to acknowledge the distrust that comes with being part of these colonial systems and the need to develop new professional approaches to residential school archives.

How does the historical context of residential schools, intergenerational trauma, and colonialism impact how residential school archives are processed, accessed, and managed?  The TRC’s Calls to Action challenges the archival community to look critical at its approach to Indigenous archives and residential school archival collections.  This call is something that needs to be examined and responded to as archives continue to struggle with how to best care for this material.

Journal of Western Archives: Native American Archives Special Issue

The current issue of the Journal of Western Archives focuses on Native American Archives.  The articles are open access and on a range of topics including tribal archives, decolonizing archival practice, developing training opportunities for Indigenous archivists, and the challenges faced by archives holding contrived photographs of Indigenous people.

I’m still working my way through all the articles but Zachary R. Jones’ article, “Images of the Surreal: Contrived Photographs of Native American Indians in Archives and Suggested Best Practices“, is an excellent read for anyone interested in the complex nature of colonial photography.