Exploring Indigenous peoples’ histories in a multilingual e-book—Part 2

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

Cover page of the Nations to Nations e-book. Image: Charles-Olivier Desforges-Rioux, LAC

By Beth Greenhorn in collaboration with Tom Thompson

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) launched Nations to Nations: Indigenous Voices at Library and Archives Canada to coincide with the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, 2021. The essays in this first edition of the interactive multilingual e-book featured a wide selection of archival and published material ranging from journals, maps, newspapers, artwork, photographs, sound and film recordings, and publications. Also included are biographies for each of the authors. Many recorded a personalized audio greeting for their biography page, some of which are spoken in their ancestral language. The essays are diverse and, in some cases, quite personal. Their stories challenge the dominant narrative. In addition to authors’ biographies, we included biographical statements by the translators in recognition of their expertise and contributions.

The Nations to Nations e-book was created as part of two Indigenous initiatives at LAC: We Are Here: Sharing Stories (WAHSS) and Listen, Hear Our Voices (LHOV). The essays were written by Heather Campbell (Inuk), Anna Heffernan (Nishnaabe), Karyne Holmes (Anishinaabekwe), Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour (Kanien’kehá:ka), William Benoit (Métis Nation) and Jennelle Doyle (Inuk) in LAC’s National Capital Region office. They were joined by Ryan Courchene (Métis-Anichinabe), from LAC’s regional office in Winnipeg, and Delia Chartrand (Métis Nation), Angela Code (Dene) and Samara mîkiwin Harp (nêhiyawak), archivists from the LHOV initiative.

This edition features the following First Nations languages and/or dialects: Anishinaabemowin, Anishinabemowin, Denesųłiné, Kanien’kéha, Mi’kmaq, nêhiyawêwin and Nishnaabemowin. Essays related to Inuit heritage are presented in Inuttut and Inuktitut. Additionally, the Inuit heritage content is presented in Inuktut Qaliujaaqpait (Roman orthography) and Inuktut Qaniujaaqpait (Inuktitut syllabics). The e-book presents audio recordings in Heritage Michif of select images in essays pertaining to the Métis Nation.

The development of this type of publication was complex. It presented technical and linguistic challenges that required creativity and flexibility. But the benefits of the Indigenous-led content outshine any of the complications. Given the space and time, the authors reclaimed records of relevance to their histories, offering fresh insights through their interpretations. The translators brought new meanings to the records, describing most, if not all, of them for the first time in First Nations languages, Inuktut and Michif.

Describing her experience while researching and writing her essay regarding manoominikewin (the wild rice harvest) of the Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg (Mississauga Ojibwe), archivist Anna Heffernan wrote: “I hope that people from Hiawatha, Curve Lake, and the other Michi Saagiig communities will be happy and proud to see their ancestors in these photos, and to see them represented as Michi Saagiig and not just ‘Indians’.”

A page from the e-book with three black-and-white images of people demonstrating different stages of wild rice harvesting.

Page from “Manoominikewin: The Wild Rice Harvest, a Nishnaabe Tradition” by Anna Heffernan, translated into Nishnaabemowin by Maanii Taylor. Left image: Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg man tramping manoomin, Pimadashkodeyong (Rice Lake), Ontario, 1921 (e011303090); upper-right image: Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg woman winnowing manoomin, Pimadashkodeyong (Rice Lake), Ontario, 1921 (e011303089); lower-right image: silent film clips featuring Ojibway men and women from an unidentified community harvesting manoomin, Manitoba, 1920–1929 (MIKAN 192664)

Reflecting on her experience, archivist Heather Campbell described the positive impact of the process:

“So often when we see something written about our communities, it is not written from the perspective of someone who is from that community. To be asked to write about Inuit culture for the e-book was an honour. I was able to choose the theme of my article and was trusted to do the appropriate research. As someone from Nunatsiavut, to be given the opportunity to write about my own region, knowing other Nunatsiavummiut would see themselves reflected back, was so important to me.”

A page from the e-book that shows pages from a picture book, text written in Inuktut Qaliujaaqpait and English.

Page from “Inuktut Publications” by Heather Campbell, translated into Inuktut Qaliujaaqpait by Eileen Kilabuk-Weber, showing selected pages from Angutiup ânguanga / Anguti’s Amulet, 2010, written by the Central Coast of Labrador Archaeology Partnership, illustrated by Cynthia Colosimo and translated by Sophie Tuglavina (OCLC 651119106)

William Benoit, Internal Indigenous Advisor at LAC, wrote a number of shorter essays about Métis Nation language and heritage. While each text can be read on its own, collectively they provide insights into various aspects of Métis culture. In his words: “Although the Métis Nation represents the largest single Indigenous group in Canada, we are misunderstood or misrepresented in the broader national narrative. I appreciate the opportunity to share a few stories about my heritage.”

A page from the e-book with text in English on the left side and a lithograph of a snowy landscape with a man seated in a cariole (sled) pulled by three dogs in colourful coats. A man wearing a blanket and snowshoes is on the left in front of the dogs. A man holding a whip and wearing clothing associated with Métis culture (a long blue jacket, red leggings and an embellished hat) walks on the right-hand side of the sled.

Page from “Métis Carioles and Tuppies” by William Benoit, with a Michif audio recording by Métis Elder Verna De Montigny. Image depicting Hudson’s Bay Company governor travelling by dog cariole with a First Nations guide and a Métis Nation musher, Red River, 1825 (c001940k)

The creation of the Nations to Nations e-book has been a meaningful undertaking and positive learning experience. Two and a half years in development, the e-book has truly been a group effort involving the expertise and collaboration of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation authors, Indigenous language translators, and Indigenous advisors.

I am grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with so many amazing and dedicated individuals. A special “thank you” goes to the members of the Indigenous Advisory Circle, who offered their knowledge and guidance throughout the development of this publication.

As part of ongoing work to support Indigenous initiatives at LAC, we will feature the essays from Nations to Nations as blog posts. We are excited to introduce Ryan Courchene’s essay “Hidden Histories” as the first feature in this series.

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.

Archives as resources for revitalizing First Nations languages

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 Karyne Holmes

The preservation of First Nations languages is crucial for the survival of the unique identity of each nation and community. The ability to speak your language strengthens your connection to your ancestral heritage, community, and land and nature. In effect, language knowledge instills a strong sense of pride and confidence in your identity, and it is interconnected to mental and emotional well-being.

Since colonial contact, government policies have caused the displacement and separation of our people from their families, communities, lands and languages. Attempts at assimilation, such as the establishment of residential schools and the ongoing Millennium Scoop, have distanced multiple generations from their languages and cultures. Canada recognizes only English and French as official languages. First Nations communities have therefore taken leadership in ensuring that their languages are maintained, relearned and passed down. The decline in the natural inheritance of language through kinship has led to the rise of language-preservation and language-revitalization projects.

Fluent speakers are the most vital resources for language survival. Indigenous-led revitalization initiatives continue to innovate, to ensure communication between older and younger generations for the transmission of teachings and stories. Immersion environments such as language camps are highly rewarding, as First Nations languages have context-specific vocabularies that cannot be fully understood unless learners are engaged in performing the activities involved. Language and culture are inextricably connected, and First Nations languages are particularly tied to cultural life that is shaped by what the land provides. Programs that teach language orally through experiences rather than in a classroom align with traditional knowledge systems; they are effective because learners use language in culturally relevant situations. Instead of learning language by using translation, meaning is conveyed through context and activities.

Revitalization initiatives value both traditional and technological approaches to learning. Digital resources are also important, as they offer various supplements to land-based language learning, such as video lessons, online dictionaries and interactive games. Social media platforms like Facebook allow for online classroom communities with communication opportunities between teachers and learners that would otherwise not be possible because of distance. Language-learning apps are rising in popularity and continue to be developed to support the needs both of beginners and of students who wish to spend extra time learning independently on their own schedules.

In addition to individuals recovering their languages, communities are empowering themselves by collectively reclaiming the original-language place names of the geographic territories that they occupy. These original names give insight into the history of the area and provide knowledge about it. The names are highly descriptive, reflecting physical characteristics of bodies of water and terrain, or honouring notable events, stories and activities associated with the locations. Some names reveal ecological knowledge or communicate information about travel and navigation. These insights were gradually diminished through the imposition of settler-drawn maps that assigned and formalized their own names to locations. As part of the movement toward decolonizing spaces, the restoration of place names in First Nations languages is being done through the redrawing of maps, and through designating names in First Nations languages to traditional territories and the institutions located there.

A hand-drawn map showing a river and bodies of water, with writing indicating locations and directions. On the right of the page is a white ruler, shown for scale.

A drawing, dated 1896, of a canoe route between Lake Waswanipi and Lake Mistassini showing Cree place names (n0117726)

Archives can play a supporting role both in current language revitalization and in future language preservation. Historical research into archives can be of value to language initiatives, as researchers can find documentation of languages in several forms. Although mostly created by non-Indigenous explorers, missionaries and anthropologists, types of records that are of special interest include journals, maps and dictionaries. These may reveal what the creators of these records learned from their encounters with First Nations peoples. Of particular interest are recordings of songs and stories, as well as historical documents that may recover traditional place names and include older vocabularies with insights into the origins of and the knowledge associated with those names.

A typed page with one column listing words in English and another column listing words in Nakoda.

Transcription of a page from an English-Nakoda dictionary written between 1883 and 1886 (e011055392)

A handwritten document with one column listing words in English and another column listing words in Innu-aiman.

Page from a notebook of Innu-aimun vocabulary learned while trading, ca. 1805 (e011211380)

Archives are relevant for finding out about our past, but they can also be valuable for assisting language maintenance and protection. They can function as spaces to preserve and make accessible for future generations newly created resources that reflect the current language knowledge of fluent speakers. Archives can be either physical or digital resource centres for language learners to access a vast collection of language content. Collaborations between leaders of language-revitalization initiatives, language keepers and archivists can ensure that our grandchildren have pride and flourish in their identity, not only by speaking their original language, but also by hearing it through our ancestors’ voices.

Check back for future blogs related to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation language resources available 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.


Karyne Holmes is an archivist for We Are Here: Sharing Stories, an initiative to digitize Indigenous content at Library and Archives Canada.