Aboriginal Archives and the Division of Community and ‘Professional’ Archives

South Australian Museum, shields

Somebody, somewhere, decided yesterday was (unofficial) Aboriginal Archives Day.  Google failed in finding a definite answer in who was promoting the day, but by the looks of it the University of Manitoba may have started it as an internal event and promoted it via social media; which resulted in a handful of other archives ‘participating’.  A handful of archives and organizations shared resources, collections, and special events via social media.  Some of the highlights include:

I think perhaps the most notable point here is that none of the organizations who shared resources were First Nation or Tribal heritage organizations.  There continues to be a divide between grassroots Indigenous archives and more formalized institutional based archives. 

The Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) does have a Special Interest Section on Aboriginal Archives (SISAA).  According to the summary on the ACA website, SISAA aims to act as ” an interface between the community of Canadian archivists and Aboriginal communities and organizations and to form a base of expertise, advice, and support on archival issues that can be shared with Aboriginal communities and organizations.”  The most well known example of this is the 2007 SISAA publication of their Aboriginal Archives Guide which serves as an introduction to archival practice for Aboriginal organizations and communities.  

I find the above statement about SISAA unsettling.  The statement speaks of sharing expertise with Aboriginal communities and the separation of the archival community from Aboriginal communities.   Yes, archivists do have expertise, however there is a tremendous amount of knowledge that archivists can also gain from viewing Aboriginal communities as the experts — traditional knowledge, oral traditions, and cultural heritage can provide a breadth of understanding to archivists that can potentially enrich archival collections.  Additionally, Canada’s colonial past and resulting collection with consultation has long been detrimental to the material cultural of Indigenous people in Canada.  Active and equal collaboration has the potential to benefit the archival and Aboriginal communities.

Though perhaps the SISAA is merely attempting to grapple with its current state — very few archivists or archives staff from smaller more community based archives participate in ACA’s annual conference, special interest groups, or membership.  Many of the members of SISAA are archivists who work in more traditional institutions which hold substantial collections created by or relating to Aboriginal people (eg. LAC, provincial and local government archives, HBC, etc).

Smaller resource limited archives tend to be disengaged from the ACA and more broadly the Canadian archival and heritage profession. In the US, the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums (ATALM) has worked to engage Tribal based cultural institutions and to provide training and services that are geared to the specific needs of Tribal organizations.  Granted, this still separates Aboriginal heritage organizations and professionals from the rest of the profession, but at least important services are made accessible via ATALM.

In Canada, many archives have worked to established community level collaboration and relationships with Indigenous people.  Currently, these connection just don’t seem to transfer into the national level or the realm of professional associations.  Given the current dismal state of government heritage funding, it seems unlikely that ACA and other professional organizations will change their approaches to Indigenous heritage in the near future. 

Sylvan Circle

Sadly the area I live in doesn’t have any Doors Open events going on this year.  Despite this shortfall, the area does have a number of self directed art tours going on this fall.  This weekend I took in the Sylvan Circle Tour which features 12 stops and over 50 artists and artisans.


  • Getting a chance to go into the old community halls and churches that served as venues for this tour.
  • The three studio stops on the tour, which let you visit the artist’s workshop. 
  • Seeing the variety of pottery, paintings, and crafts which are made by locals. Some high points for me were:
    • Weaving done by Russ Mason
    • Seeing Susan Levesque’s unique style of using gourds as canvas for painting
    • Stone jewelry by Jeanne Dumas

 Sadly, most of the artists that participated on the Sylvan tour do not have an online presence.  But in most cases a short bio and contact info can be found here.

Online Resource: Our Ontario

I recently stumbled across an interesting digitization project. OurOntario.ca is a division of Knowledge Ontario. The project aims to make various cultural collections in Ontario more accessible through digitization. Our Ontario works with community organizations throughout Ontario to establish effective and efficient digitization plans. Additionally, the site is geared toward researchers of all ages and the digitized documents from all across Ontario are easily searchable. The site also features a number of social media initiatives including social tagging.

One of the downfalls of this site however, is that not all documents which appear in the search results are viewable online. In some cases copyright restrictions have limited access to material. Despite this, adequate information is proved to describe material to researchers, and to assist in locating potentially useful sources.

The variety of material available on OurOntario is one of the site’s greatest features. The site features sources of a variety of facets including: audio, text, photo, video, and object. The site is also searchable by collection. Additionally, the site features collections from a variety of institutions including: libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, community groups, and government organizations. The variety of content makes this site an increasingly centralized place to conduct a variety of research.


I recently was exposed to [murmur] which is kind of oral history documentary project. Essentially the project collects and makes accessible personal stories about specific locations. The project is a neat combination of technology and traditional oral history. The murmur project exists in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Dublin, Edinburgh, Galway and San Jose . When a person is at a murmur location they can dial a number on their cell and begin to listen to various personal histories and memories associated with the location. Individuals also have the option of adding their own personal story about the location to the murmur archive. Additionally all the oral stories are avaliable on the [murmur] website for those who may not have the option of actually visiting the physical locations.

One of the things I found most appealing about this project is that a lot of the murmur locations are places that may not be considered overly historical, but still have personal and community histories attached to them. This demonstrates the extent to which history exists in the community at large and in places accessible to the large majority of people. Murmur seems like an engaging way to promote and collect local histories, while exploring the ways in which individuals interpret history and the world around them.