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.