Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Rewriting Canada's Memory Banks: Archivists 'Decolonize' Collections

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Rewriting Canada's Memory Banks: Archivists 'Decolonize' Collections

Article excerpt

Archivists aim for more Indigenous sensitivity


Reconciliation is rewriting Canada's memory banks as archivists across the country work to make their collections more open to and sensitive towards Indigenous people.

Library and Archives Canada is leading the way with a $12-million project to hire Aboriginal archivists to work in First Nations communities and to give more control over materials gathered there to the people who created them.

"Decolonization" is a hot topic among those charged with storing, organizing and making accessible the country's historical record.

"It's huge," said Camille Callison, Indigenous service librarian at the University of Manitoba.

"It's like the biggest thing happening right now. A lot of people are making changes."

Several recommendations in the report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission urged libraries and archives to rethink their work in light of Indigenous people.

"Archives are instruments of bureaucracy, instruments of power," said Greg Bak, a historian and archivist at the University of Manitoba.

"The archives become one way in which colonial views of relationships tend to be fixed and preserved."

The national archives, for example, hold reams of residential school records. Few, said Bak, speak of the children who died there.

That institution is hiring seven Indigenous archivists to fan out across the country. They are to find out what materials are held locally and to record fresh oral history, said Johanna Smith, director of public services.

"That is brand-new for (Library and Archives Canada) to do," she said.

"There's definitely interest out there. When we talk about this, every time there's a community that says, 'Hey, we've got a freezer full of tapes that really need help.'"

Instead of being centralized in Ottawa, materials could remain in their community. So would the copyright -- a big shift and a step toward recognizing the concept of "cultural copyright."

Currently, a recording belongs to the person who made it. …

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