By Beth Greenhorn in collaboration with Tom Thompson
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) recently published an interactive multilingual e-book called Nations to Nations: Indigenous Voices at Library and Archives Canada. This e-book grew out of two Indigenous documentary heritage initiatives, We Are Here: Sharing Stories and Listen, Hear Our Voices, and it features essays written by First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation colleagues at LAC. The process for creating this publication was unlike any work LAC had previously carried out.
The project team began with just two people: me and Tom Thompson, a multimedia production specialist. I was tasked with coordinating an e-book that would focus on Indigenous records held at LAC. We determined that an e-book was an excellent fit to showcase newly digitized content. An e-book offered the best platform to incorporate interactive material, such as audiovisual records. It also provided the capability to feature Indigenous languages and dialects.
Work began after the United Nations declared 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. With this in mind, we consulted with our Indigenous colleagues. The discussions were heartening.
Initially, we intended to feature archival content and other historical materials held at LAC that were created by Indigenous peoples in their ancestral languages. After several months of unsuccessful research, we realized that with the exception of a small number of documents, there was little content written in First Nations languages or Inuktut, the Inuit language. As for Michif, the language of the Métis Nation, there is no known documentation in the collection at LAC.
Faced with this reality, the e-book team needed a new strategy on how to create a publication that supports Indigenous languages when the bulk of published and archival records was created by settler society. Following several brainstorming discussions, the answer became clear and was surprisingly simple. Instead of focusing on historical records written in Indigenous languages, the authors would choose collection items in any media that they found meaningful and then discuss them in their essays. The essays would be translated into the Indigenous language represented by the people portrayed in each section. Content that was translated into an Indigenous language would be presented as the primary text, with English and French versions being secondary.
The title, Nations to Nations: Indigenous Voices at Library and Archives Canada, was chosen by the authors and emphasizes the distinction of the different nations and the diversity of voices. By positioning the authors’ voices at the front and centre, the stories provide a richer understanding of the world through awareness of the Indigenous knowledge and perspectives.
Recognizing that many Indigenous communities have limited Internet connectivity, dynamic content has been embedded in the e-book wherever possible. This includes high-resolution images, podcast episodes, audio clips and film footage. An Internet connection is still required to download the e-book and to access some content, such as database records, blog articles and external links.
Following a recommendation from the Indigenous Advisory Circle at LAC, we hired Indigenous language experts and knowledge keepers to translate the essays and related texts in the e-book. Of all of the tasks involved in the creation of this e-book, finding qualified translators was one of the most rewarding, yet challenging, activities. Many of the languages are at risk and, in some cases, are critically endangered. While language revitalization work has begun in many communities to create standardized lexicons and dictionaries, there were many words in English with no equivalent in the Indigenous language. Quite often, the translators needed to consult with Elders in their communities to confirm terminology and to find a word or phrase that would convey the same meaning.
One of LAC’s biggest paradigm shifts was in presenting the Indigenous language as the principal content, and in offering English and French as supporting texts. In an effort to emphasize this shift, the authors chose words to describe places, proper names and descriptions in their ancestral languages. These words are accompanied by translations in English or French in parentheses, the first time they are introduced to the reader, and only the Indigenous words are used for all further references.
Nations to Nations: Indigenous Voices at Library and Archives Canada is free of charge and can be downloaded from Apple Books (iBooks format) or from LAC’s website (EPUB format). An online version can be viewed on a desktop, tablet or mobile web browser without requiring a plug-in.
Beth Greenhorn is a senior project manager in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.
Tom Thompson is a multimedia production specialist in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.