Guest curator: Adam Gaudry

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? is a new exhibition by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. This exhibition is accompanied by a year-long blog series.

Join us every month during 2017 as experts, from LAC, across Canada and even farther afield, provide additional insights on items from the exhibition. Each “guest curator” discusses one item, then adds another to the exhibition—virtually.

Be sure to visit Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa between June 5, 2017, and March 1, 2018. Admission is free.


The Selkirk Treaty, 1817

Image of the Selkirk Treaty, a large handwritten document with the Europeans’ signatures and Chiefs’ marks at the bottom.

The Selkirk Treaty, July 18, 1817, by the Chippeway or Sautaux Nation and the Kiltistino of Cree Nation and the Rt. Hon. Thomas, Earl of Selkirk, for King George III. (MIKAN 3972577)

Lord Selkirk saw Canada as the next big thing in farming. His vision included Scottish and Irish settlers. It excluded the land’s First Nations peoples, with their nomadic traditions. It also excluded the Métis.


Tell us about yourself

In my academic life, I research Métis identity and political history. This means that a lot of my writing is focused on 19th-century Métis communities. I’m interested in how Métis viewed the major social, economic, and political forces that shaped their lives and how they organized themselves to influence (and thrive in) a changing prairie west. I’m Métis, and an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Native Studies and the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta.

Is there anything else about this item that you feel Canadians should know?

Black-and-white photo of Thomas Douglas dressed in a black jacket, white waistcoat, and white cravat.

Thomas Douglas, the 5th Earl of Selkirk (1771–1820). (MIKAN 3526168)

The Selkirk Treaty of 1817 was an agreement between Lord Selkirk—a land-speculating Scottish Earl and major Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) shareholder—and the Nehiyawak and Anishinaabeg (Cree and Saulteaux) in the Red River Valley of what is now southern Manitoba. It allowed for the settlement of Scottish settlers in exchange for a substantial amount of tobacco as “an annual present,” or as Anishinaabe saw it, rent.

Before 1817, Selkirk had tried to settle the land without the permission of local Indigenous peoples by way of a land purchase from the HBC. The pretension to own this 116,000 square mile tract over which he had no presence or influence over was understandably infuriating for those who did in fact “own” the land. Between 1812 and 1816, substantial complaints were raised by many Indigenous leaders, dismissing the absurdity of an unknown outsider claiming to own their territory and threatening action against any outsider who would settle their lands.

This opposition was most pronounced among the bois-brûlés, the “New Nation” of the northwest, who would soon call themselves the Métis. Indigenous communities were also nestled in a complex network of alliances that linked them to two rival fur trading companies—the pro-settlement HBC and the anti-settlement North-West Company, the latter which had significant overlap in membership with the bois-brûlé leadership. In the summers of 1815 and 1816, bois-brûlé soldiers dispersed Selkirk’s first settlers and actively barred outside settlers in the Red River Valley. On June 19, 1816, the bois-brûlé emerged victorious from a spontaneous engagement with HBC servants, killing 21 of them, then seizing their fort, and later Selkirk’s settlement at Red River. While Métis weren’t party to this treaty with Selkirk in 1817, Métis agitation over 1815–1816 was a major motivator in the treaty’s negotiation, and it nonetheless shaped Métis-HBC relations for generations afterwards.

Watercolour of the fight showing the two sides armed with guns facing each other across a field under a cloudy blue sky. One side is mostly unmounted white HBC employees and the other side is mounted Métis and North-West Company employees.

The Fight at Seven Oaks, June 19, 1816, by Charles William Jefferys. (MIKAN 2835228)

Given the failure of Selkirk’s settlement to win favour with the prevailing political powers in the Red River Valley by 1816, Selkirk undertook the long journey to the region to bring about some form of resolution of the hostility. He thus negotiated with local Nehiyawak and Anishinaabeg to gain permission to settle Scottish families at Red River, in exchange for substantial annual presents that he called “quitrent.” While the treaty was understood by all involved as allowing for peaceable settlement by outsiders, there was little consensus on what the treaty meant in terms of land ownership. For years afterwards, Selkirk and the HBC claimed that the treaty assured the surrender of Indigenous lands to Selkirk and the Company. For Indigenous peoples, it established a long-term rental agreement that recognized them as the landlords while bringing new people into their country, it provided generous annual gifts for Nehiyawak and Anishinaabeg, and it solidified a new alliance with a powerful aristocrat. The Selkirk Treaty is important because the document shows that when attempting to gain ownership of the Red and Assiniboine River watersheds, British leaders needed to navigate ongoing Indigenous title via treaty if they wished to settle their subjects there.

The account of the treaty written down by Selkirk’s entourage is itself fascinating in its inherently contradictory language and confused terminology. Indeed, both of the above interpretations can be pulled from its text. However, it’s my opinion that if read critically, this treaty recognizes Indigenous peoples as “landlords” of the Red River Valley, relying upon feudal language to describe a tenancy relationship that would have been obvious to a Scottish nobleman.

The document is seemingly contradictory. On the one hand the document states that the Nehiyaw and Anishinaabe chiefs agreed with Selkirk “to give, grant and confirm unto our Sovereign Lord the King, all that Tract of Land adjacent to Red River and Assiniboyne River” for “the use of the said Earl of Selkirk, and of the Settlers being established there.” But on the other hand, it states that Selkirk would “annually pay to the Chiefs and Warriors” an annual “Present or Quitrent” of “one hundred pounds of good and merchantable Tobacco” from Selkirk, his heirs, and successors.

What I think is particularly telling in this regard is the language describing this exchange as a quitrent relationship. A common custom in Selkirk’s day, quitrent was a feudal practice in which a tenant farmer paid an annual fixed rent on the land that a peasant farmer occupied, which released him from all other duties owed to his lord. Older feudal conventions required peasants to contribute labour towards public works and military duties defined by their lord. But by the 19th century, in order to maximize their profitability, many estates consolidated all of these various feudal duties into fixed quitrents, or regular payments that replaced all other obligations. As a feudal institution, quitrent explicitly recognized the ownership of the land by the feudal lord as well as institutionalized a specific feudal relationship between lord and tenant. It was generally known in the 19th century that quitrent did not transfer the land title to the tenant and the land remained the property of the feudal lord. Being himself a land-owning nobleman in Scotland, the language of quitrent would have been a concept Selkirk and his associates understood intuitively. Thus, Selkirk also describes a relationship in which he gave an annual quitrent, 100 lbs. of merchantable tobacco, to his landlords in exchange for a right to settle tenant Scottish farmers on the lands around the Red and Assiniboine rivers.

Such an interpretation is also consistent with how Anishinaabe chiefs understood the treaty. Chief Peguis, one of the treaty’s signatories, was adamant that the treaty outlined an annual rental agreement for this tract of land. In 1859, Peguis gave a formal statement, recounting that “no final bargain was made; but that it was simply a loan… I say positively the lands were never sold.” And according to Manitoba historian J.M. Bumsted, Peguis’ son, Henry Prince, likewise told a Métis assembly in 1869 that “the land had only been leased and the annual gratuity now paid…by the HBC was part of the rental.” From the perspective of Peguis and his son, the treaty did nothing to change the ownership of the land in the Red River Valley, which continued to rest with the Indigenous peoples rather than with Selkirk, the Company, or the Crown. Indeed, since Selkirk was the one paying an annual quitrent; he was in the tenant role, in other words, Indigenous peoples were his landlords.

Selkirk in attempting to secure ownership and title of Indigenous lands through treaty-making, intentionally or not, ended up reinforcing Indigenous ownership of the land he wished to settle. Likely this was all he could do in an era of Indigenous political and military ascendency in the West. Having had his countrymen routed by a bois-brûlé party the summer before, he wasn’t exactly in a position to demand control of Indigenous lands, and Indigenous peoples have never been willing to surrender their land and their independence to others. Selkirk’s treaty is therefore an important reminder of Indigenous political power in the early 19th century. It was bois-brûlé power that forced Selkirk to negotiate and it was the Nehiyawak and Anishinaabeg who navigated Selkirk through a terrain of Indigenous power and diplomacy. Selkirk was only able to gain permission to settle his countrymen on Indigenous land in exchange for an annual quitrent, due to those who assumed the role of the country’s landlords. Thus this treaty is a record of a negotiation that initially sought the surrender of Indigenous lands, but Selkirk only succeeded in reinforcing Indigenous political and territorial primacy, by recognizing the ongoing ownership of others to the lands he wished were his own.

A thin line outlines Selkirk’s grant on the map of Assiniboia.

Map of 1817 Showing Lord Selkirk’s Grant of 116,000 Square Miles known as Assiniboia Including the Forts in The Five Forts of Winnipeg by George Bryce, ca. 1885. (AMICUS 5279616)

A map of the Red River settlement depicting the railway, settlements, and forts. A legend across the bottom lists the different points on the map.

Red River Settlement Facsimile of Section of Map 1818 in Lord Selkirk’s Colonists: the Romantic Settlement of the Pioneers of Manitoba by George Bryce, ca. 1909–1910 (AMICUS 5614009)

Canadians are usually taught to see treaties as documents intended to induce Indigenous peoples to surrender their rights and title, much in the way that Selkirk attempted in 1817. But the history of diplomacy on this continent is both ancient and complex. Rarely, (if ever) did Indigenous peoples see treaties with European empires as alienating land or jurisdiction. Instead treaties, like this one, sought to work out new ways for different peoples to benefit from each other’s presence on the same territory. Selkirk and his settlers were being welcomed into a new place to share in the bounty of the prairie landscape—for a price—and this also involved an ongoing recognition of the original inhabitants of the territory and ensuring that they too would benefit from the increased presence of Europeans. This treaty should remind us that the Indigenous peoples who negotiated these agreements were both powerful and sophisticated diplomats and able to force European negotiators to accept the norms of Indigenous diplomatic systems.

There are also pitfalls to viewing Indigenous-British treaty-making as rooted primarily in land cession and Indigenous disempowerment. Treaties were negotiated in public and in front of large audiences in ways that would ensure accountability moving forward. In these cases those present could remember what was discussed, what was agreed to, and of course what was not. In most cases, Indigenous peoples did not discuss, let alone agree to the permanent alienation of their lands. Much like Peguis and Henry Prince they remember only agreeing to share the bounty of their lands with new allies. Treaties like this sought mutual benefit, not restructuring political relations along lines of massive political inequality. If we view treaties as cession documents—not living, breathing agreements—we miss their purpose, indeed, this is why Selkirk’s treaty—indeed all Indigenous-Crown treaty-making—is so poorly understood. Most historians of the prairie west have long failed to understand either Indigenous motivations or the Indigenous diplomatic context in which negotiations were taking place. By first listening to Indigenous voices—past and present—that understand things differently, and secondly, permitting Indigenous voices the authority to narrate our own histories and political relationships, we’ll get a fuller, more accurate view of history.

Tell us about another related item that you would like to add to the exhibition

The same issue emerges when attempting to understand Indigenous-Crown treaties that follow Selkirk’s treaty in the West. The Numbered Treaties (Treaties 1-11, negotiated 1871–1921) are also said to have extinguished Indigenous title to the lands, turning it over the Crown—a claim that Indigenous peoples deny, arguing that no such discussion occurred and that their ancestors never agreed to such a thing. So much of this seems rooted in the imperial mentality that Indigenous peoples are too primitive and unsophisticated to have either understood what was being negotiated or were duped by more sophisticated agents of the Crown. These assumptions are both baseless and grounded in a normalized racism reinforced by generations of Canadian colonial practice. As Selkirk’s treaty shows, Indigenous peoples were well aware of what Europeans wanted, and were able to exert their own influence on events, meaning that treaty negotiations were just that—negotiations.

In later treaty-making, Indigenous peoples also were successful in guiding negotiations within their well-established diplomatic traditions. They negotiated the entry of new settlers onto their territory in exchange for ongoing annual presents which would recognize their ongoing stake in the territory. While the Numbered Treaties are still viewed as cession documents by the federal and provincial governments, Indigenous intellectuals take a different (and nearly unanimous) view that these agreements established an enduring relationship that recognizes Indigenous rights and title, rather than extinguishing them. As Canadians are beginning to think more critically of these agreements, developing a better framework from which to approach Indigenous-Canada and Indigenous-Crown relations is paramount.

A critical reading of the treaty documents in conjunction with the written records of the negotiation and the oral tradition is vital. Like Selkirk’s treaty, it is possible to read one line of an official document and assume that it eliminated Indigenous rights and title forever, but we must also go much deeper and understand the sophisticated new relationships being envisioned by all involved. Historians in particular have an obligation to take a broader view of these relationships and engage a broader archive of sources, some of which may not have been written down. In an era of reconciliation, intellectuals must look beyond standard accounts and standard approaches to narrating those accounts. Indigenous peoples have long held different histories about these events, and Canadian intellectuals must take those seriously. Critical readings of these events will allow us to see beyond the contemporary colonial context to see the different relationships envisioned by our ancestors in how we were to live together. Treaties, like the Selkirk Treaty, all provide guidelines for just relationships and co-existence—we just need to look more carefully at them, in order to realize that vision.

Biography

A colour photograph of a young man wearing a white shirt and tie, sitting in a field.

Adam Gaudry, credit Amanda Laliberté

Adam Gaudry, Ph.D., is Métis and an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Native Studies and Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta. His research explores 19th-century Métis political thought, the formation of a Metis-Canada treaty relationship in 1870, and the subsequent non-implementation of that agreement. This project argues for the ongoing existence of a “Manitoba treaty” between the Métis people and Canada that necessitates the maintenance of a respectful and bilateral political relationship between the treaty partners. This work is being revised for publication as a book. He received his Ph.D. from the Indigenous Governance Program at the University of Victoria, and his MA in Sociology and BAH in Political Studies from Queen’s University. For his doctoral research on historic Métis-Canada relations, he received the Henry Roe Cloud Dissertation Writing Fellowship at Yale University. He is also a co-investigator on the SSHRC-funded Métis Treaties Research Project. He has published articles in Native American and Indigenous Studies, the Wicazo Sa Review, aboriginal policy studies, and the Canadian Journal of Native Education along with chapters in edited collections on Métis identity, research ethics, and methodology.

Related Resources:

  • Library and Archives Canada. Treaties, Surrenders and Agreements
  • M. Bumsted, Fur Trade Wars: The Founding of Western Canada, Winnipeg: Great Plains Publications, c1999. AMICUS 20975923
  • M. Bumsted, The Red River Rebellion. Winnipeg: Watson & Dwyer, c1996. AMICUS 15446457
  • Sharon Venne, “Understanding Treaty 6: An Indigenous Perspective,” Pp. 173–207 in Aboriginal and Treaty Rights in Canada: Essays on Law, Equity, and Respect for Difference, Michael Asch, ed., UBC Press, c1997. AMICUS 15883635
  • Michael Asch. On Being Here to Stay: Treaties and Aboriginal Rights in Canada, University of Toronto Press: 2014. AMICUS 42148617

Library and Archives Canada releases its latest podcast episode, “Healing Journey: Project Naming at 15”

Colour photograph of a multi-coloured, beaded hair clip decorating the back of a woman’s head. The woman is sitting in the Pellan Room of Library and Archives Canada, listening to a panel of speakers.Before Project Naming began in 2002, the Aboriginal peoples depicted in the majority of federal archival photographs were nameless. Over the past fifteen years, Project Naming has provided a virtual space enabling First Nations, the Métis Nation and Inuit communities to access Canada’s historic photo collections and engage in the identification of people and locations, thereby reconnecting with their history to share memories and stories rekindled by the photographs. From March 1st to 3rd, 2017, Library and Archives Canada and Carleton University hosted a free event to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Project Naming. The podcast team set up a speakers’ corner where attendees could share their thoughts about the project.

In this episode, Healing Journey: Project Naming at 15, you will hear from individuals who reflect on the success and meaning of Project Naming, and share their excitement for the future of the project as it continues to engage with communities across Canada.

To view images associated with this podcast, here’s a direct link to our Flickr album.

Subscribe to our podcast episodes using RSS, iTunes or Google Play, or just tune in at Podcast–Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.

For more information, please contact us at bac.balados-podcasts.lac@canada.ca.

Guest curator: Sarah Hurford

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? is a new exhibition by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. This exhibition is accompanied by a year-long blog series.

Join us every month during 2017 as experts, from LAC, across Canada and even farther afield, provide additional insights on items from the exhibition. Each “guest curator” discusses one item, then adds another to the exhibition—virtually.

Be sure to visit Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa between June 5, 2017, and March 1, 2018. Admission is free.


View of the Library and Archives Canada booth at the Truth and Reconciliation national event in Edmonton, Alberta, by Sarah Hurford, 2014

Photograph of a booth covered in photos with a computer on the side. A brown-haired woman staffing the booth is finding a photo for a couple visiting the booth. Another booth is in the background.

View of the Library and Archives Canada booth at the Truth and Reconciliation national event in Edmonton, Alberta by Sarah Hurford, 2014. © Sarah Hurford, 2014.

When the first residential school opened in the 1870s, the idea had mainstream support. Today, Canadians find the policy abhorrent. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has had a major role in educating the public.


Tell us about yourself

I have been interested in records relating to Indigenous heritage since my first summer at LAC as a summer student in 1998. This is when I saw firsthand how much of a difference finding historical documents made to people.

Is there anything else about this item that you feel Canadians should know?

This photograph was taken in the middle of a huge arena with thousands of people in it, and many booths: government departments, church sharing circles, vendors, and many, many visitors. It really was shared space, and for that reason alone, the arena itself was a site of reconciliation. It was a very unique experience, and the air was charged with emotion and the smell of burning sage. People stopped at the LAC booth to share their stories with us, ask us questions, and look at the photographs we had on display. To me, the event was particularly special since it was the last national event planned, so it was the last time I thought I would be in such an environment.

Tell us about another related item that you would like to add to the exhibition

The other related item I would like to add to the exhibition is this photograph, which shows a group of boys who lived too far away from the residential school at Aklavik to return home during the summers. At the national event in Edmonton, I met the grandson of one of these boys, who immediately found his grandfather in the photograph. Every time I see the photo, I remember meeting his grandson, and that experience really underscored for me that it was important that we were there at the national events to hear these stories, and that we understand that historical documents in our collections have an effect on the present day.

Group of Inuit children dressed in overalls or coveralls standing on sandy, grassy ground with the school in the background.

Inuit children who lived too far away and had to stay at the Anglican Mission School during the summer by photographer M. Meikle (MIKAN 3193915).

Biography

A colour photograph of a smiling woman with hair parted on the side.Sarah Hurford has been an archivist at LAC since 2009, and specializes in records and search tools relating to Indigenous heritage. She has held positions in Reference Services and in Private Archives, and has provided reference support for two document disclosure research projects conducted for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She is currently in the Government Archives Branch in the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada portfolio.

Crown land patents: Indian land sales

By Catherine Butler

Reference archivists at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) are often asked to assist researchers in tracking down patents for Indian land sales. Over the years, we’ve noticed that there is much confusion surrounding these records; specifically, what they are, what is held at LAC and how the records can be located. I hope that I can clear up some of this confusion.

What are Crown land patents?

Crown land patents are legal instruments issued when a territory in the Crown’s possession, such as a First Nations reserve, is divided and sold to a private individual or corporation. In Canada, First Nations reserves are considered to be federal Crown lands because they are owned by and are in trust to the Crown. LAC holds a number of the Indian land sale patents issued since 1763, though most of these records are still held in provincial archives.

Who issued patents for Indian lands?

Until 1845, the provincial secretaries for Upper and Lower Canada issued Indian land patents under the province’s Great Seal. Following the 1840 Act of Union between Upper and Lower Canada, the Office of the Registrar General was established for the united Province of Canada, assuming the responsibilities formerly held by the provincial secretaries.

By the time of Confederation in 1867, the provinces had become responsible for most Crown land sales, with the exception of lands held in trust for First Nations reserves, which fell under the authority of the federal government. The newly created federal Office of the Registrar General became responsible for issuing Indian land patents across Canada.

By 1886, this responsibility had been transferred to the Department of Indian Affairs, which retained the function until 1951. Since then, Indian land patents have been the responsibility of the Registrar General of Canada, though it should be noted that the last Indian land patent was issued in 1990.

What records are held at LAC?

Today, Indian land patents held at LAC are located in a variety of fonds, including the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs (RG10) and the Registrar General (RG68), and can therefore be a bit tricky to track down. Below is a list of the Indian land patents held by LAC.

DATES REGION REFERENCE
1700 to June 30, 1867 Quebec / Lower Canada / Canada East and Upper Canada / Canada West RG 68, Indexes to special grants and leases for Canada Company patents (MIKAN 192543)
1763 to September 2, 1845 Quebec / Lower Canada / Canada East MG8 – A26, Entrybooks of the Provincial Registrar for Quebec, Lower Canada and Canada East (MIKAN 107245)
1773 to September 2, 1845 Quebec / Lower Canada / Canada East RG 68, Vol. 893, Reel C-2883, KEY to the General Index (MIKAN 1336273)
November 1842 to September 23, 1865 Nova Scotia RG10, Vols. 459-461 and 1718, Reels C-13329 and C-13330, Nova Scotia Records (MIKAN 159097)
September 3, 1845 to June 30, 1867 Canada East and Canada West RG 68, Indexes to Indian and Ordnance Land Patents (MIKAN 192544)
July 01, 1867 to October 31, 1886 Canada RG 68, Indexes to Indian and Ordnance Land Patents (MIKAN 192544)
November 1, 1886 to July 1, 1951 Canada RG 10, Vols. 10923-10999,  13267 and 14108, Land Patents (MIKAN 133563)
August 1, 1951 to February 2, 1990 Canada RG 68, BAN 2000-01430-5, Box 1–51, Indexes/Ledgers (MIKAN 181720)

Keep in mind that patents issued by the Provincial Secretary of Upper Canada between 1793 and 1845 are held by the provincial archives, as are the pre-Confederation Indian land sales for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

What information do I need to find an Indian land patent?

In order to track down an Indian land patent, the following information is required:

  • Patentee name
  • Date of issue
  • Location of the lot
  • Patent number (not required, but very helpful)

Catherine Butler is a reference archivist at Library and Archives Canada

Project Naming: celebrating the past and looking to the future

By Julie Dobbin

Since its beginnings in 2002 as an Inuit-focused project, Project Naming has expanded to engage all Indigenous peoples to identify photographs in Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) collection.

The majority of individuals in the images of the collection have never been identified; they are anonymous. Additionally, archival descriptions relating to events or activities are absent or have outdated information (e.g., place names, band names or terminology). The information is based on original inscriptions and captions found on the records, and hence it reflects the biases and attitudes of non-Indigenous society at the time. Since 2002, approximately 10,000 images have been digitized, and approximately 2,500 mainly Inuit individuals, activities and places have been identified.

In honour of the project’s 15-year anniversary, a celebratory event took place over the course of three days in March 2017. It was held at LAC and Carleton University in Ottawa and involved Inuit, First Nations and Métis peoples as well as the general public.

Project Naming’s 15th anniversary event was not only a celebration of all the individuals who have been identified and of partnerships with Inuit communities, but also a celebration of Indigenous cultures as well as a chance to look back at the past to build a better future. Throughout the three days, Inuit, First Nations and Métis Elders shared their knowledge and made important recommendations on the future direction of Project Naming, and on the future of a country where Indigenous peoples are no longer unidentified, silenced and forgotten.

A colour photograph of a man from the Métis Nation wearing a beaded vest standing at a podium.

Clément Chartier, President of the Métis National Council, at LAC for the 15th anniversary event of Project Naming, March 3, 2017.

Although Project Naming has taken some important strides in undoing past wrongs, much more work still needs to be done. To mark the 15th anniversary, new official Facebook and Twitter pages for Project Naming have been launched. This greater presence on social media provides a new platform for non-Indigenous Canadians and Indigenous peoples to recount their stories, share their histories and continue the significant work that Project Naming has begun.

A colour photograph of two Inuit women looking closely at a picture. The older one holds the picture while the younger one takes a photo on her iPhone of it. Behind them are people talking and tables covered with papers.

Manitok Thompson (left) and Kathleen Ivaluarjuk Merrit (right) identifying photographs at the Carleton University Art Gallery in Ottawa, March 2, 2017.

“When you see those pictures, it’s like coming home,” Inuit Elder Piita Irniq declared during the event. His statement indicates just how much power a photograph can have. Project Naming is therefore not simply about identifying people, places and things; it is about regaining what has been lost, finding oneself and being able to return home. Sessions at the event became about more than just identifying names. These sessions were about sharing knowledge, whether about clothing, physical traits, hunting, fishing, trapping, families or traditional ways of life. Most importantly, every photograph in every session was a means of sharing a story or personal memory.

A colour photograph of an older Inuit man wearing a traditional Inuit jacket who is standing in front of a monitor pointing to an image on the screen. Two young Inuit are watching and listening closely.

Elder Piita Irniq (right) and Nunavut Sivuniksavut students Gabe Klengenberg (left) and Aislyn Gizelle (centre) during a session at LAC for the 15th anniversary event of Project Naming, March 1, 2017.

I cannot speak for others, but I had the sense that those who attended the event left with more awareness than when they arrived. It was truly three days of education, an education that every Canadian would benefit from, and one that Project Naming is intended to foster. Every time a face was identified during the event, it felt like a victory, like a difference was being made and an identity restored. Having the chance to watch the Elders identify people and places was remarkable. What was even more incredible was the energy in the air, the feeling of collaboration, respect and reconciliation. Project Naming will continue the meaningful work it has done over the past 15 years; with new partnerships with Inuit, First Nations and Métis peoples, a positive difference will continue to be made. To all those who may not know about Project Naming and how to help, visit the web page and social media accounts, “like” the page, share the photos and help make a better Canada, one where people’s identity will not be erased but will instead be celebrated and honoured.

Promote and learn more about Project Naming:

A colour photograph of a young Inuit man looking at several large photographs on easels.

Curtis Kuumuaq Konek at LAC during the 15th anniversary event of Project Naming.


Julie Dobbin is doing her MA in Indigenous and Canadian Studies at Carleton University. She wrote this article during a practicum in the Exhibition and Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Inuit women and seals: a relationship like no other now on Flickr

Seals are a central part of life and an essential source of locally-harvested food for Inuit peoples. Many traditions, customs, beliefs and oral histories revolve around the seal. Inuit peoples were and still are in an important and direct relationship with this animal. Inuit hunters have great respect for the spirit of the seal, an animal that is so heavily relied upon. Every single part of the seal is used, as the harvesting must be sustainable, humane and respectful. Most importantly, cold and harsh arctic climates demand that people have the right shelter and clothing to keep warm and dry, and seals help meet this need through their skins, fur and oil.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman standing in front of a tent, hanging seal boots to dry on a clothesline.

Inuit woman “Aasivak Evic” hangs kamiits (sealskin boots) to dry, Pangnirtuuq (Pangnirtung), Nunavut. George Hunter. Canada. National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque (MIKAN 3198727)

Inuit women developed highly skilled techniques in order to treat and use seal in various ways throughout the seasons. They scraped the skins clean of blubber with an ulu (a traditional, women’s knife with a crescent-shaped blade).

Visit the Flickr album!

Inuit women and seals: a relationship like no other

By Julie Dobbin

Seals are a central part of life and an essential source of locally-harvested food for Inuit peoples. Many traditions, customs, beliefs and oral histories revolve around the seal. Inuit peoples were and still are in an important and direct relationship with this animal. Inuit hunters have great respect for the spirit of the seal, an animal that is so heavily relied upon. Every single part of the seal is used, as the harvesting must be sustainable, humane and respectful. Most importantly, cold and harsh arctic climates demand that people have the right shelter and clothing to keep warm and dry, and seals help meet this need through their skins, fur and oil.

Black-and-white photograph of an Inuit woman inside an igloo wearing a floral print parka and tending a seal oil lamp, with a young Inuit child wearing a fur parka.

Woman tending a seal-oil lamp inside an igloo, Western Arctic, probably Nunavut, 1949 (MIKAN 3202745)

Inuit women developed highly skilled techniques in order to treat and use seal in various ways throughout the seasons. They scraped the skins clean of blubber with an ulu (a traditional, women’s knife with a crescent-shaped blade) then stretched and dried them, as seen in this photograph of Taktu.

A colour photograph of an Inuit woman wearing a red cloth jacket, crouching on a rocky coastline and scraping fat from a seal skin with an ulu (a woman’s knife).

Taktu cleaning fat from a seal skin, Kinngait (Cape Dorset), Nunavut, summer 1960 (MIKAN 4324316)

Continue reading

Transcribing the Coltman Report – Crowdsourcing at Library and Archives Canada

By Beth Greenhorn

In the spring of 2016, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) digitized A General Statement and Report relative to the Disturbances in the Indian Territories of British North America, more commonly known as “the Coltman Report.” Its digitization was in support of the 200th-anniversary events commemorating the Battle of Seven Oaks, organized by the Manitoba Métis Federation in June 2016.

Top half of Page 1 of William Batchelor Coltman’s report concerning the Battle of Seven Oaks. Handwriting in faded black ink on cream coloured paper. The writing begins before and crosses over the red vertical margin line on the left side of the page.

Screenshot of Page 1 of the Coltman Report, 1818 (MIKAN 114974)

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Library and Archives Canada to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples through a new digitization initiative

By Benjamin Ellis, Strategic Advisor, Public Services Branch, Library and Archives Canada.

The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences is posting this guest blog in support of the Sharing the Land, Sharing a Future National Forum.

Established in 1991, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) travelled across Canada documenting the issues and challenges facing Indigenous Canadians and their communities. Over its six-year mandate, RCAP amassed thousands of hours of recorded testimony and hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, culminating in the publication of the 1996 RCAP final report complete with a series of recommendations for a renewed relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada.

Following the conclusion of the Commission, the entire RCAP archive was transferred to the National Archives of Canada, now Library and Archives Canada (LAC). The archive is a rich collection of scholarly studies, written submissions, oral transcripts, photographs, audio and video recordings, as well as duplicate digital files on floppy disks. To date, access to this collection has been facilitated through on-site consultation at LAC’s Ottawa location and through the submission of requests for reproductions.

In late 2015, organizers of the Sharing the Land, Sharing a Future National Forum, commemorating the 20th anniversary of RCAP in November 2016, approached LAC to propose the creation of a digital database of RCAP holdings.

LAC launched a searchable database of select RCAP records at the commemorative national forum. The database contains transcripts of more than 175 days of hearings; nearly 200 research reports; more than 100 submissions from tribal councils, organizations and interest groups; as well as RCAP publications and the final report.

The contents of the database were selected over the past year with LAC staff combing through the RCAP records, selecting documents for digitization, and conducting Access to Information reviews to ensure that the records could be made public. Several documents were recovered from the original floppy disks, which required LAC to use computers and software from the 1990s.

LAC hopes that the RCAP database will renew interest in this important inquiry which remains so relevant today.

Voices of the Past

By Harriett Mathews

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has roughly 30 million photographs from various collections in its possession, a large number of which have Aboriginal content. During my time here as part of the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP) working on Project Naming, I have been able to explore the database and discover breath-taking photographs from different Aboriginal communities all over Canada.

Correcting the Historical Record

Although the photographs themselves are quite wonderful to behold, the records often leave something to be desired. For many Aboriginal images, the titles contain antiquated and offensive language, or are simply vague. It is imperative that these records be updated with modern terminology and information gathered from members of the communities where these photographic records originated. The involvement of Aboriginal people in this process is crucial because these records depict their history, their culture, and their families; their voices are the ones that have been omitted and lost. As I myself belong to the First Nations, I have greatly enjoyed being able to share my culture and help restore the lost voices of photographs by helping to update the records.

One example is an image titled “Dirty Daisy and her baby.” The photograph depicts an Inuit woman and her child suffering from malnutrition. “Daisy” was not the name of this woman; it is more likely the name that was assigned to her by a government official. By calling this woman “Dirty Daisy”, the individual who wrote the caption effectively stripped her of both her dignity and her name. Hopefully, through Project Naming, the real name of this woman and her child will be uncovered. In the meantime, the record has been updated so that the title now reads “An Inuit woman (Daisy) feeding her baby while seated in a tent in Chesterfield Inlet (Igluligaarjuk), Nunavut.”

Black and white photograph of a gaunt looking Inuit woman and child sitting in a small tent with cooking supplies in the background. The woman is feeding the baby with a rectangular bottle.

Inuit woman (Daisy) feeding her baby while seated in a tent in Chesterfield Inlet (Igluligaarjuk), Nunavut (MIKAN 3855414)

Improving Access – Photo by Photo

Since Project Naming began in 2002, more than 2,000 photographs have been identified. Additionally, thousands of records have had inaccurate and insensitive terminology removed from their titles and moved into a general notes field in order to provide historical context and perspective. Identifying names, places, events, and cultural objects facilitates the sharing of Aboriginal culture and stories with all who are interested in searching the archives. These include stories about Aboriginal politicians, for example Inuit Senator Charlie Watt who represents Quebec. I had the pleasure of working on DIAND Album 38, which contains several photographs of young Charlie Watt and his parents, Daisy and Johnny Watt. The photographs take place at a party in Kuujjuaq (formerly Fort Chimo), Quebec, and even though the photographs are black and white, the vibrancy of that Inuit community shines through.

Photograph of a green album page with three black and white photographs (numbered 154, 156, and 157) with typed captions on white paper. The photograph in the top left corner is of an Inuit woman in a plain dress and plaid shawl standing on a porch with a little girl in a parka drinking glass of milk. The photograph in the top right corner is of two Inuit women in plaid shawls and flower headbands sitting in front of wooden crates, one holding an accordion, with a baby sitting in the foreground to the left and a little boy in dress clothes standing beside the woman with the accordion. The photograph at the bottom of the page is of a woman in a blazer and ribbon headband dancing with a man in a suit; the woman on the left is holding a man’s hand – the rest of the man is out of the shot – and there are three women and an oil lamp in the background.

Album page fifty-three with photographs of an Inuit woman and girl (Daisy Watt, possibly with Harriat Ruston), a group of Inuit women and children—Daisy Watt is playing the accordion, Christina Gordon is on the right, and Charlie Watt (Daisy’s son) is standing on the left—and S.J. Bailey and H. Lamberton dancing with two Inuit women—Daisy Watt is on the right with S.J. Bailey, the woman behind her is Susie, and Hannah (Susie’s sister) is on the left holding H. Lamberton’s hand—in Kuujjuaq (formerly Fort Chimo), Quebec (MIKAN 4326945)

Black and white photograph of five women, four of them seated and one on the far right standing with a baby wrapped in a plaid shawl. The woman in the centre of the photograph is playing an accordion, and the woman to her left has a young boy in her lap. Behind them are several wooden crates labeled “Marven’s Biscuits” and one marked “H.B.C. Wholesale Vancouver.”

A group of women and children at a party in Kuujjuaq (formerly Fort Chimo), Quebec, the woman playing the accordion is Lizzie Suppa and to her immediate left are Daisy Watt and Charlie Watt (Daisy’s son) (MIKAN 3855585)

Photograph of a green album page with three black and white photographs (numbered 158, 159, and 160) with typed captions on white paper. The photograph in the top left corner is of women and children sitting in front of several wooden crates labeled “Marven’s Biscuits” and one marked “H.B.C. Wholesale Vancouver.” The photograph in the top right corner is of two couples dancing while a woman plays the accordion. The photograph at the bottom of the page is of an Arctic ground squirrel in a grassy field with a rock in the foreground.

Album page fifty-four with photographs of a group of women and children [Lizzie Suppa is playing the accordion, seated to her left are Daisy Watt and Charlie Watt], two Inuit couples dancing [Johnny and Daisy Watt are on the left, on the far right is Lizzie (with her accordion again)], and a Siksik (an Arctic ground squirrel) (MIKAN 4326946)

Restoring Aboriginal Voices

All of these photographs are essential to the telling of Canadian history. They demonstrate the narrative of the relationship between Aboriginal people and the Canadian government, and most significantly, they tell the stories of the individuals in the photographs and share their culture. For decades, First Nations, the Metis Nation, and Inuit voices have been lost in these records. Project Naming is vital because it provides Aboriginal people a forum through which they can reclaim their stories and identities. I am glad that I have been able to contribute my voice, as a First Nations woman, to these records. There are so many stories to be told, and I am sure that as LAC continues to move forward in partnership with Aboriginal peoples, we will be able to hear them.


Harriett Mathews was an FSWEP student who worked in the Exhibition and Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada during the summer of 2016.