A day in the life of a reference librarian

By Kristen Frame

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has a vast collection of published material that includes fiction and non-fiction, newspapers, government reports, Parliamentary debates, maps and atlases, music scores and recordings, and films. This blog article will give you an idea of how this vast collection helps reference librarians to answer research questions.

As a reference librarian, I receive questions on a wide variety of topics, which require different types of published material to answer. I recently received a request to find a copy of a Militia General Order from the First World War. This specific General Order from August 1915 cancelled a regulation that required married men to have consent from their wives in order to enlist. To answer this particular question, I had to make use of multiple sources of published material from our collection.

General Orders

A photograph of the title page of a book.
Department of National Defence, General Orders, 1915

I began my search with LAC’s bound copies of published General Orders from 1897 to 1945. These can be requested using our online catalogue, Aurora.

I consulted the volume from 1915, but the General Order that cancelled the requirement to have consent from wives to enlist was not in this volume.

Canada Gazette

A typed page with two columns from the Canada Gazette.
Page from Canada Gazette, August 21, 1915, that includes General Orders; image from A Nation’s Chronicle: The Canada Gazette

Next, I decided to check to see if the Canada Gazette published this General Order, as it regularly published General Orders during wartime. Issues of the Canada Gazette from 1941 to 1997 are available online in our A Nation’s Chronicle: The Canada Gazette database. Again, my search came up empty, as there was no mention of the order in the 1915 Canada Gazette.

Secondary sources

My next step was to consult secondary sources (books and articles) to see if any research had already been done on this General Order. I did find references to the General Order in the following publications:

However, these references did not include any information about where—or whether—this General Order was published. This General Order was becoming a real mystery!

Newspapers

Two newspaper articles side by side.
The Toronto Daily Star, August 20, 1915, page 7; The Globe, August 21, 1915, page 6

At this point in my research, I decided to search newspapers to confirm that this order was passed in August 1915. I searched the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail from August 1915 and found articles from both newspapers reporting that the regulations for enlistment had changed, and men were now free to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force without the consent of their wives (if married) or parents (if under 17).

Orders in Council

A typed page with General Orders 1915 at the top.
P.C. 1915–1948, Overseas Expeditionary Forces, Regulations Enlistment 1915/08/19, Actg M. M. and D. [Acting Minister of Militia and Defence], 1915/08/14 (e010920460)

Now that I had confirmation that the General Order was passed in August 1915, I felt it was likely that the government did not publish this General Order. But as a last resort, I searched our Orders-in-Council database using Collection Search. At that time, some General Orders were approved by Orders-in-Council. And there it was! At long last, I had found the General Order that cancelled the regulation requiring married men to have consent from their wives to enlist.

As you can see, the General Order was not easy to find. This particular search illustrates how many different kinds of published material can be used to answer a research question.

Do you have a question that could use the assistance of a librarian or archivist? Submit your question in writing to us today .


Kristen Frame is a Reference Librarian in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Métis Nation river lot plans

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

By William Benoit

An oil painting depicting a person on a Red River cart being pulled by an ox on a dirt road. In the background, there is a small white house and two other small buildings.
“Manitobah” settler’s house and Red River cart (c013965k)

Library and Archives Canada holds plans produced by the Canadian government of existing Métis river lots. These were required by the Manitoba Act and the transfer of Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory. These river lot plans are important pieces in understanding the Métis Nation. The plans are invaluable to the entire Métis Nation because they show where many Métis ancestors lived before Canada’s acquisition of the region.

A large map showing narrow rectangle river lots and the names of the owners of the lots, written in red ink. At the top of the map is a compass, indicating north.
Plan of river lots in the Parish of Lorette, Province of Manitoba; surveyed by (signed) G. McPhillips, Deputy Surveyor; examined and certified by (signed) A.H. Whitcher, Inspector of Surveys; Dominion Lands Survey Office, Winnipeg, February 16, 1878 (e011213852)

The Métis created settlements across the Métis Nation Homeland. The cradle of this homeland was the Red River Settlement. By 1869, there were 12,000 inhabitants there, of which 10,000 were Métis. Censuses recorded that 5,000 to 7,000 of the Métis were children.

King Charles II granted a trading monopoly over the territory known as Rupert’s Land to the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1670. This territory comprised all of the land watered by rivers flowing into Hudson Bay. These areas included what is now the whole of Manitoba, most of Saskatchewan, southern Alberta, southern Nunavut, and northern parts of Ontario and Quebec. In the United States, Rupert’s Land included parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.

On November 19, 1869, the Hudson’s Bay Company surrendered Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory under its letters patent to the British Crown. By Order-in-Council dated June 23, 1870, the British government admitted the territory to Canada, under section 146 of the British North America Act, 1867 (now the Constitution Act, 1867), effective July 15, 1870. This was subject to the making of treaties with the sovereign Aboriginal peoples.

The Métis in Red River were apprehensive about the transfer and were concerned that it would threaten their way of life. They were unsure about the status of their land rights and their democratic rights under the proposed new regime. The federal government sent out survey parties prior to the transfer of Rupert’s Land. Their surveys were to be carried out in accordance with the Ontario style of survey, in squares, instead of the system of long, narrow lots with river frontage used by the Métis. The new system cut across properties already in existence. On October 11, 1869, proclaiming that the federal government had no right to act without permission, a group of Métis stopped a crew of surveyors on a Métis river lot. This challenge to the way that the Government of Canada conducted these activities served notice that the residents would need to be consulted and have their rights guaranteed.

In November 1869, the Métis seized Upper Fort Garry and established a provisional government. The Métis government drafted demands that Canada had to satisfy before they would accept incorporation into Canada. The result was the Manitoba Act. The arrangement made for the Manitoba Act is one of the deals (or compacts) that led to Canada’s expansion westward.

Under the Manitoba Act, the intention was to respect the concern of the Métis for their lands. This took two forms: a provision to protect the existing land holdings of the 3,000 Métis adult landholders (section 32), and a provision to give Métis children and families a “head start” in the province with a land grant of 1.4 million acres (section 31).

In post-Confederation Manitoba, the position of the Métis deteriorated. New settlers from Ontario were hostile for racist, religious and cultural reasons. Some Métis elders, over generations, described that period as a “Reign of Terror” against the Métis people. The distribution of land under section 31 was slow and fraught with corruption. As a result, many Métis sold their promised interests in the land and moved outside of the province that they had helped to create. The 1874 plan of river lots in the parishes of St. Norbert and St. Vital is included below as an example that depicts the early stages of the Métis diaspora. It also documents land speculation by individuals such as Donald Smith of national railway fame, and the Roman Catholic clergy’s attempt to create and maintain a French-speaking enclave in advance of the oncoming wave of immigration.

The Métis river lot maps are very important documents today because they can be used to identify and register citizens of the Métis Nation.

A large map showing narrow rectangle river lots and the names of the owners of the lots, written in red ink. A railroad and a river are shown on the map.
Plan of river lots in the parishes of St. Norbert and St. Vital, Province of Manitoba (e011205909)

Visit the Flickr album for images of Métis Nation river lot plans.


William Benoit is the Advisor for Internal Indigenous Engagement in the Office of the Deputy Librarian and Archivist of Canada at Library and Archives Canada.

The postage stamp designs of Helen Roberta Fitzgerald

By James Bone

Helen Roberta Fitzgerald (Helen Bacon, in some documents) was the first woman to design postage stamps for Canada. Her earliest work was the Associated Country Women of the World stamp (1959). She would complete six further designs that were accepted by the Post Office Department. Including a Christmas design that was used for two different stamps, her work appeared on a total of eight Canadian postage stamp issues.

Born in 1919 in Edmonton, Alberta, Fitzgerald was raised in Toronto and lived most of her life in Ontario. She began studying art and design at a young age and eventually completed her studies at the Ontario College of Art (now OCAD University), where she later taught. In addition to teaching, she worked on commercial art for the Eaton’s catalogue, freelanced as a graphic designer and layout artist, was heavily involved in textile, mosaic and embroidery arts, and worked on commissioned ecclesiastical art for churches across Ontario.

A black-and-white photograph of a smiling woman.

Helen Roberta Fitzgerald in 1978, provided by Fitzgerald for the Canadian Postal Archives database project

Later Canadian stamp issues designed by Fitzgerald include Girl Guides Association (1960), Strength Through Education (1962), Victoria, 1862–1962 (1962), Christmas: Gifts from the wise men (1965) and Highway Safety (1966). Unlike other stamp designers, Fitzgerald frequently designed at the same size and scale as the intended finished postage stamp, rather than make a larger design that would then be scaled-down. The Strength Through Education stamp shows the effect of this method, with the elements of the design making careful and full use of the available space.

A two-tone stamp design showing a boy and a girl with diplomas in their hands looking off into the distance, with symbols representing aspects of knowledge in orange: classical building, crown, gavel, gears, typewriter, scientific equation, violin, globe, book, microscope, etc.

Strength Through Education (e001218439), copyright Canada Post Corporation; note that the issued stamp has a different title in French (L’instruction fait la force)

Fitzgerald’s work on postage stamp design occupied only a brief period in her life, from 1959 to 1967. The design for her final Canadian stamp issue, Votes for Women (1967), was poorly received, and this might have brought about an end to Fitzgerald’s work with the Post Office Department.

In addition to postage stamp design for Canada, Fitzgerald submitted designs for the 1967 Canadian centennial emblem, and she painted fish designs that were used, in part, for a 1963 series of Maldives postage stamps.

A colour design showing a brightly coloured fish with yellow, blue and black stripes on a blue background.

Pygoplites diacanthus (Angelfish), design painted for a Maldives postage stamp (e011202373)

Fitzgerald eventually retired to King City, Ontario, continuing her practice of the arts, where she lived with her husband Wilfred Bacon until she passed away in 2009.

Library and Archives Canada received a small donation of archival material related to Fitzgerald, which includes paintings from the Maldives series, slides showing a mosaic of the Associated Country Women of the World design, Canadian centennial emblem designs, design essays for the Highway Safety postage stamp issue, correspondence, postal covers, and newspaper clippings related to her work. All of the material in the Helen Roberta Fitzgerald fonds is open for consultation.


James Bone is a Philatelic and Art Archivist within Private Specialized Media at Library and Archives Canada.

 

Tunniit/Tattoos: The Complicated History of Photographing Inuit Tattoos

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

This article contains historical language and content that some may consider offensive, such as language used to refer to racial, ethnic and cultural groups. Please see our historical language advisory for more information.

By Heather Campbell

Last year my colleague Beth Greenhorn and I were chatting about a photograph she had come across of two Inuit women and a child. They were wearing elaborate atigii (inner parkas) with a cloth background behind them. One of the women was wearing odd mittens—one black and one with a distinctive knitted diamond pattern. I was sure I had seen this woman before. I have been researching Inuit tattoos for over ten years, as part of my own art practice. At first, I just collected images and did not take note of the source of the material, something I have been kicking myself for ever since! A few years ago, I started creating a more detailed collection, saving the original image identification numbers. When I began working at Library and Archives Canada (LAC), in 2018, I started searching through our collection for more images and created a list for future reference. In that list, I found “Hattie.”

Black-and-white photograph of two women and a child wearing parkas, sitting in front of a fabric background.
[Two Inuuk women and a child]. The woman on the left is Ooktook (Niviaqsarjuk, also called Uuttuq), who is Qairnirmiut. Her name means “lying on the ice.” She was called “Hattie” by photographers Geraldine and Douglas Moodie. The boy is Harry Unainuk Gibbons. The woman on the right is Taptaqut, Harry’s mom. Photo credit: George Comer, 1905. (e011310102) These names were provided by Hassan Bosta via Project Naming on Facebook.

At least four different people have photographed “Hattie”: George Comer, Geraldine Moodie, Albert Peter Low, and J.E. Bernier. In some photos, I think she has been misidentified. In others, a different woman is also called “Hattie,” “Ooktook,” and “Niviaqsarjuk.” This is perhaps because the women had similar-sounding names, or they were thought to look alike, or the photographer simply got confused after returning to the south and having the photographs processed.

Another institution instrumental to my work that informed my findings is the Glenbow Museum. This museum houses the Geraldine Moodie collection, which also includes photographs of women from the same region and time period. In the Glenbow descriptions, and in a comment on our Project Naming Facebook page, this woman was identified as Ooktook. Through Project Naming, people are identified by community members. For this reason, I consider it to be the most reliable source.

A black-and-white photograph of six women with facial tattoos wearing parkas, before a cloth backdrop.
[Photograph of six women with facial tattoos wearing parkas, before a cloth backdrop. Niviaqsarjuk is seated in the centre in the first row] [Left to right—back row: [unknown], Atunuck, Uckonuck; front row: Aka “Pikey” Niviaqsajuk/Shoofly?, Taptaqut], March 8, 1905. Credit: J.E. Bernier         (C-001499)

In the image above, one can see the woman seated at front and centre is the same person Ooktook/Niviaqsarjuk/Hattie. She is wearing the exact same outfit as in the photo by Comer right down to the patterned mitten on her left hand, except that, in this photo, she has facial tattoos. In the original photo Beth shared with me, her face is bare! What does this mean? Is it the same woman? Are the tattoos draw on? Were they tracing pre-existing tattoos, or were they completely fabricating these designs?

Recently, I came across an interesting article about the photographic work of Michael Bradley and his project Puaki, which featured photographs of Maori people of New Zealand, well-known for their facial tattoos called Tā moko. The process Bradley uses is wet plate collodion, popular in the 1800s. When Maori people with tattoos were photographed by means of this process, their Tā moko disappeared! The collodion process could not properly capture colours in the blue/green spectrum. Is this what happened with the tattoos of Inuit women from the early 1900s?

With the guidance of Joanne Rycaj Guillemette, the Indigenous Portfolio archivist for Private Archives here at LAC, we did some digging to see exactly which photographic process was used in this photograph of Niviaqsarjuk. Mikan (LAC’s internal archival catalogue) did not have the answer; neither did the former paper-based filing system. The Comer collection of photos are actually copies, and it turned out the originals are held at the Mystic Seaport Museum, in Connecticut. Going through my personal collection of photos, I found an image that looked familiar, and then searched the Mystic Seaport Museum for the ID number. I found the woman referred to by Comer as “Jumbo.” In the description, I found what I was looking for. It states:

Glass negative by Capt. George Comer, taken at Cape Fullerton, Hudson Bay, on February 16, 1904. Comer identified this image as a young girl known as Jumbo, showing the tattooing of the Southampton Natives. This is one of a group of photos taken by Comer to record facial tattooing of various Inuit groups of Hudson Bay. He had Aivilik women paint their faces to simulate the tattooing styles of various other groups. Information from original envelope identifies this as Photo 55, # 33. The number 30 is etched into emulsion on plate. Lantern slide 1966.339.15 was made from this negative. Identical to 1963.1767.112. 1963.339.58 shows the same young woman in a similar pose.

This was the confirmation I needed that the designs were in fact painted on and that the designs were from other regions! I do not know how often this happened, but finding similar images from other collections has me concerned about the authenticity of tattoo designs in photographs from this period and into the 1950s. I searched the Comer collection further and found more than one woman photographed with and without tattoos, including the woman called “Shoofly,” Comer’s “companion,” whose real name was Nivisanaaq.

A black-and-white photograph of five Inuit women with facial tattoos standing in front of a white cloth backdrop
Aivilliq Women, 1903–1904. Credit: Albert Peter Low (a038271). Nivisanaaq (nicknamed “Shoofly) at centre in a beaded atigii with painted tattoos. Note the woman to her right, whom we also see in the image below.
A black-and-white photo of 15 women and two babies, posed in three rows.
Aivillik women and children on the “Era” Credit: Albert Peter Low 1888–1909, location unknown. (a053565) Nivisanaaq is present again, to the right of centre, second row, in this photograph, wearing her beaded atigii with boot motifs. Note that the woman at her left in the image above is now in front of her at centre; both are without tattoos in this photo.

In the Donald Benjamin Marsh fonds, also held at LAC, we see another example of painted tattoos. The unidentified women from Arviat in these two photographs by Donald Benjamin Marsh are most likely the same person, as one can tell from comparing their facial features, especially the broken or missing tooth on the left side of her mouth. On the right side of her face, she has no tattoos; on the left side, however, the tattoos are quite prominent. The lines are very dark and wide. When one compares these images to photographs of women with authentic tattoos, one can see the difference. Here, the lines are quite fine and faint, but still visible.

Left: A colour photo of an Inuk woman with facial tattoos wearing a white parka with red straps looking at the camera. Right: A black-and-white photo of an Inuk woman wearing a decorated parka standing in snow.
Left: Inuit woman with facial tattoos and braids. Donald Benjamin Marsh fonds, Arviat, date unknown. (e007914459) Right: [Smiling Inuk woman in a beaded amauti]. Original title: Smiling Inuit woman in a decorated amauti, Donald Benjamin Marsh fonds, Unknown Location, N.W.T. [Nunavut]: c. 1926–1943. (e004922736)
A black-and-white photograph of an Inuk woman with tattoos on her face and arms smiling while braiding her hair. Right: A black-and-white photograph of an Inuk woman in a fur parka.
Left: Mary Edetoak, a patient, who still has traditional Inuit tattoos, 1958. (e011176882) Right: Elderly Inuit woman with her hair down [graphic material], 1929. Inscription reads, “Old native woman Eskimo, heavily tattooed but does not photograph.” Credit: G.H. Blanchet (e004665345),

This discovery reminds me of the actions of well-known photographer Edward S. Curtis, who travelled through North America photographing Native American peoples. (Note: We use the term “First Nations” in Canada, but “Native American” is used in the United States of America). Curtis often manipulated scenes by dressing sitters in clothing from an earlier era, removed contemporary elements, and added props that created a romanticized and inauthentic representation of them. Not only is this type of manipulation dehumanizing, it leaves behind a legacy of misinformation.

As a reaction to colonialization and assimilation policies, Indigenous Peoples are going through a period of cultural resurgence. When those of us who are looking to reclaim elements of our culture, such as tattooing, come across these images and assume the designs originate in the region the people are living in. Someone in Arviat, seeing a photo of her great-grandmother, for example, might want to reclaim the markings of her relative and mistakenly get the same markings, not knowing the design is from a completely different family and region. One can only imagine how distressing this would be.

A main goal of We Are Here Sharing Stories is to update descriptions to make them culturally sensitive and accurate. To this end, we are updating descriptions for the above-mentioned collections, to add the women’s correct names if known and a note explaining the significance of the tattoos. This note also addresses the practices of some photographers of the time that may result in tattoo designs that are not authentic to the women or their region. Although we cannot change the past, it is my hope that these actions will help inform researchers and community members alike from this point on. Nakurmiik (thank you).

A black-and-white photograph of a smiling Inuk woman with facial tattoos.
Kila, a tattooed Inuit woman, from the Dolphin and Union Strait area, Coronation Gulf, N.W.T. [Nunavut], 1916. (a165665)

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.

The Art of Dene Handgames / Stick Gambling / ᐅᐨᘛ / oodzi

By Angela Code

The Dene are a group of Indigenous People who are part of the Na-Dene language family. The Dene are also commonly referred to as Athabaskans or Athapaskans. We are one of the largest Indigenous groups in North America. Our land covers over 4,000,000 square kilometres, spanning from across northern North America to the American Southwest. There are three distinct Dene groups: Northern, Pacific Coast and Southern/Apachean. There are approximately 50 distinct languages within the Na-Dene language family, and various dialects.

There is a game that the Northern Dene have been playing for many years called Dene Handgame, also called Stick Gambling, or simply referred to as handgames. Dënesųłiné yatiyé, also known as Chipewyan Dene, is one of the more widely spoken languages from within the Na-Dene language family. In the Sayisi Dënesųłiné dialect, Dene Handgame is called  ᐅᐨᘛ (oodzi).

There are different rules and various hand signals of the game across the north; however, the object of the game and how it is played is essentially the same. Basically, Dene Handgame is an elaborate guessing game. It is a fun pastime that requires a good sense of “reading people” and concealment. The players who compete with high energy, humour, good sportsmanship and performative gestures are often the most fun to play with and to observe.

How to play Dene Handgame

There must be an even number of players on each team. Tournaments will specify how many people per team will play—the number varies from region to region, and it often ranges from 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12 per team. Two teams play against each other at a time. Each player must have a personal token—a small object that can be easily hidden in one hand (a stone, a coin, a button, a .22 shell, etc.).

When players are not personally competing in the game, they, as well as some onlookers, will hit individual caribou-skin hand drums with handmade wooden drumsticks in a fast-paced, rhythmic beat. The music of the drums, whoops, cheers, chants and songs fuel the high energy of the game. Drummers who are not personally playing in the game will often drum behind the team that they support. They drum when their “side” is hiding their tokens, to encourage them and protect them from being guessed out.

A black-and-white photograph of about 20 men and boys, some standing and some kneeling on the ground. One man near the centre of the photo is wearing a white buttoned-up shirt and dark pants with a wooden tobacco pipe in his mouth. He is hitting a caribou-skin hand drum with a wooden drumstick. There is a white canvas wall tent set up in the background, and fresh meat hanging to dry on a wooden rack.

Gwichya Gwich’in men and boys playing Dene Handgame while a man drums, Tsiigehtchic (Tsiigehtshik, formerly Arctic Red River), Northwest Territories (a102486)

Each team has a captain. To begin the game, the two opposing team captains will play against each other. They will each hide their token in one of their hands, and then they will simultaneously indicate which hand they think their opponents’ token is in.

A colour photograph of eight men and one child. The men are playing Dene Handgame. Three of the men are hitting individual caribou-skin hand drums with wooden drumsticks. Two men are gesturing with Dene Handgame hand signals.

Men playing Dene Handgame, photographs from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples visit to Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, the community of the Sayisi Dene (Denesuline), 1992–1993. Back (left to right): Brandon Cheekie, Peter Cheekie, Jimmy Clipping, Fred Duck, Ernie Bussidor, Tony Duck. Front (left to right): Unknown, Evan Yassie, Thomas Cutlip, Ray Ellis. (e011300424)

Once one of the captains correctly guesses where the opponent’s token is, then their respective teammates will join the game. The winning captain’s team becomes the first team to have the opportunity to win points.

Each member of a team will line up side by side, kneeling on the floor or on the ground, facing the opposing team. Because handgames can often go on for long periods of time, players will kneel on something soft like a mat or a bed of spruce bough.

It is not necessary, but often one or two designated, unbiased scorekeepers/referees will keep a keen eye on every player to ensure that scores are tallied correctly, no one cheats and any disputes are settled fairly. They sit close by on the sidelines between the two opposing teams so that they have the best vantage points to view the players and have access to move the winning handgame sticks.

The sticks are placed between the two teams and are used to keep score of the game. The number of sticks correlate with the number of players. For example, when 4 people are playing per team then 12 sticks are used, when 6 are playing per team then 14 sticks are used, when 8 are playing per team then 21 sticks are used, when 10 are playing per team then 24 or 25 sticks are used, and when 12 are playing per team then 28 or 29 sticks are used.

A colour photograph of the back of an elderly man wearing a “Sayisi Dene Traditional Handgame Club” jacket, watching a Dene Handgame match.

An Elder (Charlie Learjaw) observes a Dene Handgame match, Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, 1992–1993 (e011300421)

The team whose turn it is to hide their tokens will place their hands under a cloth covering (like a blanket or spare coats). They will move their token from hand to hand until they decide which hand to hide it in. Then, when they have chosen their hiding hand, they will take their fists out from under the cloth covering and face their opponents. Commonly, players keep their arms straight in front of them or they cross them over their chests; however, players also develop their own elaborate and unique positioning of their hands. Players will use facial gestures, body movements and sounds to try and confuse or “psyche out” the opposing captain, who is the one who will guess and signal to where they think each token is hidden.

A colour photograph of six men and one small child. The men are playing Dene Handgame. Three of the men are hitting individual caribou-skin hand drums with wooden drumsticks and singing.

Men drumming and playing Dene Handgame, Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, 1992–1993. Left to right: Brandon Cheekie, Peter Cheekie, Fred Duck, Jimmy Clipping, Ernie Bussidor, Tony Duck and Ray Ellis. (e011300426)

Before the captain makes the hand signal indicating where they think the tokens are hidden, they make a loud sound—a big clap, or they hit the floor with their hand—to let everyone know that they are ready to call. There are many different signals that can be used; however, there are four main ones that the Arctic Winter Games follow.

Once the captain reveals their hand signal, all the opposing players must then open the hand that the captain has indicated so everyone can see if the token is there. If the token is not there, meaning that the captain was wrong in their guess, the opposition player(s) must then show the other hand containing the object. Each time the captain is wrong in their guess, a stick is awarded to the opposing team. For example, if the captain guesses and makes one correct guess and three wrong guesses, the opposition will receive three sticks. The player who was guessed correctly is eliminated from the round, and now there are only three players remaining. This will continue until the captain has correctly guessed all of the players remaining, or until the opposing team wins all of the sticks. If the captain guesses all of the opposition players correctly, it is their team’s turn to hide their tokens and for the other team captain to try and guess which hands the tokens are in. The team to win all of the sticks wins the game.

A black-and-white composite photograph of about 16 boys, some standing, some kneeling on the ground. They are playing Dene Handgame. One young man is standing and hitting a caribou-skin hand drum with a wooden drumstick.

Gwichya Gwich’in men and boys playing Dene Handgame, Tsiigehtchic (Tsiigehtshik, formerly Arctic Red River), Northwest Territories, ca. 1930 (a102488)

Handgame tournaments

There are many small Dene Handgame tournaments happening all across the north all the time. My home community of Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, aims to play every Friday evening. There are also some very big Dene Handgame tournaments that happen a few times a year in various regions. Some of the prizes for winning teams are in the thousands of dollars!

Historically, there have been stories told about when people would play handgame—they would gamble goods such as firearms, bullets, axes, etc. I have even heard about men losing their wives to a game and having to win her back at another game!

Gender controversy in handgames

Children, both boys and girls, are taught how to play Dene Handgame at home and at handgame tournaments. In some regions, they are taught how to play at school as a part of physical education.

A colour photograph of a man, a teenage boy and a small child watching a Dene Handgame match. The man is hitting a caribou-skin hand drum with a wooden drumstick. The small child is mimicking the drumbeat with his own small hand drum.

A man (Peter Cheekie) hits a caribou-skin hand drum with a wooden drumstick while a teenage boy (Christopher Yassie) and a small child (Brandon Cheekie) watch a Dene Handgame match, Tadoule Lake, Manitoba, 1992–1993 (e011300429)

However, for adults, the sport is predominantly played by men. This is because some regions, particularly in the Northwest Territories, do not allow adult women to play. However, in the Yukon and in some northern Prairie provinces, women are not only allowed to play, they are encouraged and widely supported. This inclusion of women makes the games much larger and more fun to participate in and to observe. Tournaments will state whether they allow men’s teams only or mixed teams. There has only been one women’s handgame tournament (that I know of), which was held in Whitehorse, Yukon, in 2016. The inclusion of women to play handgames is a hot topic in the north. Some say that it is not “traditional” to allow women to play and that women “have too much power—so they would just win all the time.” Some communities do not even allow women to drum.

Others say that women played a long time ago, but that this changed with the imposition of Christianity. Some Christian missionaries actually banned the drum and playing Dene Handgames altogether. The drum in Dene culture is very important. It is spiritual and some Christian missionaries saw it as heathen and therefore unacceptable. They actually burned drums in some communities. Some people continued to play handgames in secret, but in other communities it only came back into practice in recent years. In one community in particular, I heard that handgames were not played for a long time, and it was the women who brought it back, encouraging the men and others to play again.

I think that in this day and age, it is not fair to exclude women from playing Dene Handgame, or to prevent them from drumming, for that matter. Gender dynamics change and shift within all cultures. I believe that more gender inclusion to compete in this fun pastime is a good, positive change for everyone.

I personally love to watch people play, but I much prefer to compete in the game myself, and I would love to see more women participate and have fun playing handgames as well.

Visit the Flickr Album for images of the Dene.


Angela Code is an archivist with the Listen, Hear Our Voices project at Library and Archives Canada.

The Canadian Eskimo Arts Council — Defining Inuit art

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

This article contains historical language and content that some may consider offensive, such as language used to refer to racial, ethnic and cultural groups. Please see our historical language advisory for more information.

by Heather Campbell

The Canadian Eskimo Arts Council (CEAC) was created through funding from the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs in 1961 as a solution to the perceived problem of declining quality in Inuit art and a need for a system to approve images for the new Inuit printmaking practice. The CEAC assumed responsibility for creating a jury to select prints for annual Inuit print collections, primarily in Cape Dorset and Baker Lake, Northwest Territories (now Nunavut). It also launched the internationally celebrated Masterworks exhibition, which toured internationally between November 1971 and June 1973. The CEAC brought Inuit art to the world stage and assisted in the expansion of the Inuit art market. It helped shape what we know as Inuit art today.

A black-and-white photograph of seven men in suits standing around a table and looking at art.
Members of the Canadian Eskimo Arts Council, 1962 (e011177569-v8)

The Canadian Eskimo Arts Collection was transferred to Library and Archives Canada in 1991. The collection consists of various operational documents, reports, copyright requests, correspondence, audio recordings of meetings, interview transcripts and documents related to the Masterworks exhibition (also known as Sculpture/Inuit). The collection provides insight into how the Inuit art market was developed from the 1960s to the late 1980s. The CEAC was in charge of approving annual print collections for the Cape Dorset Eskimo Arts Council, and other collections from communities such as Ulukhaktok (formerly Holman) in the Northwest Territories, Pangnirtung in present-day Nunavut, and Povungnituk and Inukjuak in Nunavik (northern Quebec). The CEAC also created the Igloo Tag program, which authenticated Inuit sculptures through a tag or sticker affixed to artwork that included information about the artist (see last image in blog).

A black-and-white photograph of four adults and a child smiling at the camera.
Group shot at installation at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, with Ruby Arngn’naaq (right) and Osuitok Ipeelee (centre), 1973 (e011312911)

In addition to the textual documents in the collection, there is also an extensive collection of Inuit art print and sculpture catalogues, organized by community, as well as audio recordings of conferences and workshops related to sculpture and prints. In these recordings in particular, we hear the concerns of Inuit artists first hand and can better understand the dynamics between the artists and the CEAC. For example, when reading through reports regarding site visits, we learn that they met with artists who wanted their artwork promoted in the south and whose work was deemed marketable. We can read the general criteria for the acceptance or rejection of certain prints. When combing through the minutes or correspondence, we get an idea of the artistic tastes of the CEAC and see why certain artworks were not deemed suitable for promotion.

A document with three typed paragraphs under the title “Rejected” Prints.
The Canadian Eskimo Arts Council’s mandate for jurying print collections, 1980, p. 5 (e011270883)

When seen in its entirety, we recognize the CEAC as a symbol of its time and the prevailing societal attitudes toward Indigenous peoples and their artwork. When we read through the interviews with artists in particular, we start to notice a distinct difference between what the CEAC members considered “good” Inuit art and what the artists themselves thought was “good” art. Generally speaking, Inuit also valued art that was representational and well finished. They did not share the same appreciation that many collectors and CEAC members had at the time for sculptures that were not well finished and were perceived by southerners as “primitive.”

The CEAC influence over Inuit art helped to create a certain “primitive” aesthetic that was, one could argue, not fully representative of the traditional aesthetic of Inuit culture. For example, reading through interviews with artists from Nunavik, we can see that they were baffled as to why the works of some artists were so popular with people in the south. Why were so many Inuit artists forced into this repressive and inauthentic paradigm? In many cases, an Inuit artist was just that—not an individual with his or her own sense of what was aesthetically pleasing or worth expressing on paper, in stone or through whatever material the person deemed fit. As illustrated in the image below from a Government of the Northwest Territories pricing brochure, only “traditional” materials were bought by the wholesalers. Today, we would not dream of imposing these types of restrictions on a non-Indigenous artist living in downtown Toronto, for example, but during that time, this imposition on Indigenous artists was prevalent. Thankfully, there were CEAC members who opposed this approach, but it has taken decades for the expectations of the Inuit art world to change, to set aside this anthropological lens and to be receptive toward artistic expressions by Inuit artists as individuals, rather than as representatives of some collective Inuit consciousness.

A page with lists and other typed text under the title Avoid Using.
“Survey of Price Guide,” K.C. Crassweller, 1971, p. 30 (e011270066)

On this subject, Natan Obed, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, stated in his keynote speech at the 2019 Inuit Studies Conference:

The right to be diverse in society is something that we are fighting for. . . . We don’t have to always have these straw polls about whether or not an Inuk can create something and if that creation is in line with the expectations that the society has. Or a person can be of any faith. A person can reject or take on Inuit traditions, Inuit history. You can be a computer programmer just as much as you can be a hunter. That’s not to say that we’re not encouraging Inuit to live healthy lives within Inuit Nunangat and do traditional things; it’s to say that when Inuit do not feel that that is their path, that we somehow are able to not have those conversations that demean them, that put them down, and that “other” them when it is their right in a society as a peoples to do whatever it is that they feel that they want to do with their lives.

A large contributing factor to the creation of this definition of Inuit art was the fact that formal governance of our own art did not exist in the early years of the art movement. There was minimal communication between the artists themselves and those marketing and selling their art. And without meaningful conversations about the nature of art making, how can true understanding be achieved? How could the practical needs of artists be met if they were not being asked what they truly needed? The CEAC did not have an Inuk member until 1973, with the appointments of Joanasie Salomonie (1938–1977) and Armand Tagoona (1926–1991), who both resigned before ever attending a meeting. Other appointments followed over the last few years of the CEAC.

It was not until the formation of the Inuit Art Foundation (IAF) in 1988 that a governing board was created that consisted of a majority of Inuit artists, beginning in 1994. A concerted effort was made by the IAF to train Inuit artists in art marketing, promotion and copyright. In 1995, the IAF created the Cultural Industries Training Program, which taught students Inuit art history and gave an introduction to exhibition design. Thanks in part to the IAF and its programming, Inuit slowly began to enter the arts administration sector. In 1997, July Papatsie, one of the first Inuk curators, co-curated the internationally touring exhibition Transitions at the Indian and Inuit Art Centres (now the Indigenous Art Centre) of the former Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (currently Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada). In 2015, Heather Igloliorte became the first Inuk to edit an issue of the IAF’s Inuit Art Quarterly.

A drawing of a tag with a string. The tag has an igloo on it, with the words “Canada” and “Eskimo art” above and below.
Image of an Igloo Tag from an Igloo Tag brochure written in Inuktitut syllabics, from the file “Igloo Tag Information,” 1972, p. 81 (e011270680)

In 2017, the IAF took over the administration of the Igloo Tag Inuit art authentication. For the very first time in 2018, licensee status was given to an Inuit-owned gallery: Carvings Nunavut Inc., belonging to Lori Idlout of Iqaluit. Inuit are finally in the position of saying when a piece of art is genuine Inuit art! Also in that year, four Inuit guest curators—Kablusiak, Krista Ulujuk Zawadski, Asinnajaq and Heather Igloliorte—were selected to curate the first exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery for the former Inuit Art Centre, recently renamed Qaumajuq, which is set to open in February 2021. Inuit are opening, expanding and leading discourse about our own artistic expressions, and I look forward to seeing what the next 50 years hold for the Inuit art world.

These related collections are also found at Library and Archives Canada:

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Heather Campbell is an Inuk artist originally from Nunatsiavut, Newfoundland and Labrador. She was a researcher on the We Are Here: Sharing Stories team at Library and Archives Canada.