Hidden histories

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.

By Ryan Courchene

The archival and published collections held at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) are amazing, and so extensive that you will never be able to see them all. You can find hidden gems every single day just by looking, either online on LAC’s website, or in one of the several buildings with archival holdings across Canada.

I work in the Winnipeg office, which alone holds over 30,000 linear feet (nearly 9,150 metres) of archival records. On a business trip to Ottawa in 2016, I had the opportunity to shadow the reference service employees at 395 Wellington Street. While there, I noticed three catalogue drawers near the desk and inquired about what they contained.

Colour photograph from a hallway, through a glass wall with two doors, of a reference room.

The reference room at LAC in Ottawa, seen from the hallway. The catalogue drawers containing research cards with copies of photographs can be seen on the left of the room. Photo Credit: Tom Thompson

Colour photograph of four metal shelving units with eight pull-out drawers containing cards with copies of photographs and associated reference information.

Reference room catalogue drawers, organized by subject headings and geographical locations, containing research cards with copies of photographs held in the collections at LAC in Ottawa. Photo Credit: Tom Thompson

I was told that they held small cards with images in the collection that were copied from microfilm and microfiche. Intrigued, I decided to look at some of the cards on my lunch break. I soon discovered the “Birth of the West” collection, which contains hundreds of incredible photographs of Western Canada, with many focusing on Indigenous images by Ernest Brown. I learned that the images contained in the drawers were only card copies of the originals; the images themselves are small and of poor quality. From a researcher’s perspective, this can be both frustrating and helpful when conducting on-site research. As with this image of the moose, many photographs indexed in the card catalogues have never been digitized. In these situations, the cards provide immediate access to images without having to order the original material in off-site storage.

The photographs in this noteworthy collection are not only visually stunning but also remarkable for the wealth of historical information on Canada and the First Nations peoples of the West. Even though there are hundreds of images in the collection, one image really caught my eye. It tells a fascinating story that evolves every time I examine it.

Colour photograph of a cream-coloured catalogue card. The left half contains typed information in black organized into different categories. A copy of a black-and-white photograph turned sideways on the right side depicts a moose with a harness hitched to a travois. The moose stands in front of a teepee.

Catalogue card of a copy of a photograph of a young moose with a harness hitched to a travois and standing in front of a teepee, unknown location, ca. 1870–1910. Photo Credit: Tom Thompson

This photograph depicts a small home, which could belong to a Métis or First Nation family, blankets hung to dry, some cleared tree brush, a pot of food by the fire pit, a beautiful teepee, and of course a domesticated young moose with a harness hitched to a travois. The one item that I did not notice immediately, which is probably the most important part of the image, is the hand holding the rope attached to the moose. My grandfather used to tell me about how he cleared his own land so he could farm and raise cattle. Is this what was happening here? Or was something else going on? Each time I look at the image, a new story emerges that raises more questions.

Detail from a black-and-white photograph showing a person’s hand holding onto a rope.

Detail of the photograph of a young moose with a harness hitched to a travois and standing in front of a teepee, unknown location, ca. 1870–1910. Photo Credit: Tom Thompson

After seeing this image of the young moose, I wanted a copy for myself. Since I was working backwards, I had to find the image in the collection to see if it was already digitized, and if not, verify any restrictions on getting a copy. To my disappointment, I found that it was not digitized, and I decided not to push the request any further.

It was not until 2019 that I learned the Ernest Brown collection was being digitized by the We Are Here: Sharing Stories (WAHSS) initiative. The moose photograph is one of 126 images in an album entitled “Birth of the West.” Dating from ca. 1870–1910, the album consists of photographs taken in the Northwest Territories (now Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Nunavut) and British Columbia. In addition to fully digitizing and describing this album, the WAHSS team has digitized over 450,000 images, including photographic records, textual documents and maps, with the goal of providing free online access to primary sources, no travel required!

In October 2019, I was finally able to order a copy. It fills me with great joy to know that I have the first print from the digitized copy of this amazing image, which hangs in my office today.

Photograph of a black-and-white photograph with a thick white border mounted on a dark grey page in an album. The image depicts a moose with a harness hitched to a travois standing in front of a teepee.

Young moose with a harness hitched to a travois, unknown location, ca. 1870–1910. This photograph is on page 28 of the “Birth of the West” album. (e011303100-028)


Ryan Courchene is an archivist in the Indigenous Initiatives division at Library and Archives Canada.

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.

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.

Exploring Indigenous peoples’ histories in a multilingual e-book—Part 1

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.

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.

A map of North America with symbols placed across Canada.

Pre-contact map of North America without any geopolitical borders, with icons linking to author biographies and essays. Image: Eric Mineault, LAC

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.

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.

 

George Mully: moments in Indigenous communities

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 Annabelle Schattmann

George Mully (1926–1999) was an American playwright and documentary film director. He began as a playwright, working on off-Broadway shows, travelling productions, and operas in the United States and Europe. Mully had various roles, including stagehand, stage manager, lighting designer, and director; he even worked as a puppeteer. After marrying and settling down in England with his wife Ann, Mully pivoted his career from the stage to audiovisual production. He started his own educational production studio, writing, directing, and producing stories on subjects and issues he was passionate about. By 1979, the family had immigrated to Canada and settled in Ottawa.

The George Mully collection, held at Library and Archives Canada, consists of personal and professional documentary photographs taken in the later part of Mully’s career. The images demonstrate his varied interests, including international development, the environment, history and socio-cultural topics, music, and art. In Canada, Mully worked closely with the National Film Board and museums in the capital region, directing many documentary films. Acid from Heaven (1981), a documentary film about acid rain, is a notable work included in his collection.

Colour photograph of a young girl staring into the camera.

An Inuk girl with yellow sunglasses, a red jacket, and multicolour mittens. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218259)

Of particular interest to the We Are Here: Sharing Stories initiative is a series of 363 photographs taken between 1978 and 1988. They depict First Nations people and Inuit from across Canada, as well as Diné (Navajo) and Inde (Apache) from the United States. Mully’s images document how Indigenous people lived and worked in the late 1970s and 1980s. Most of the photographs show people going about their daily lives, often while performing an activity. Sometimes it is a traditional activity, such as hunting, gathering, creating art, and making crafts, or a contemporary activity such as working in a modern industry. Occasionally, Mully captures crossover between traditional and contemporary life.

Colour photograph of four men sitting on wooden chairs surrounded by microphones and facing each other, singing and drumming.

Four unidentified First Nations drummers performing under a tent. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218157)

Mully’s interest in human rights is evident in a series of photographs taken in July 1979, when the Indian women’s rights march arrived in Ottawa. The march, led by Maliseet women Sandra Lovelace and Caroline Ennis, protested inequality and discrimination faced by First Nations women who lost their Indian status upon marrying non-status men. Bill C-31 amended the Indian Act in June 1985 by removing the relevant provisions and reinstating status for those affected, among other changes. The revisions to the Act have been critiqued for not adequately addressing the issue.

Colour photograph of a person sitting on green grass behind a sign that reads “Save our sisters.”

Unknown individual sitting on the lawn of Parliament Hill in Ottawa with a protest sign. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218140)

It is not initially clear why Mully captured particular images or what purpose they might have served. Some photographs might have been taken in preparation for a possible documentary or as part of research on a future project. The names of the people depicted, the locations, and the dates of the photographs are unknown; none of the images has a detailed caption, and few textual records accompany the collection. As such, a selection of over 300 photographs will be part of an upcoming Co-Lab challenge and Flickr album. If you recognize someone or a location, or know when an event took place, please go to the George Mully Co-Lab challenge and tag the photographs! Tagging the images with names, locations, and dates will allow others to find images of family members and their communities, and ensure that the people and places are remembered. Thank you for sharing your knowledge, and for your assistance in this endeavour.

Colour photograph of a man in dark blue clothing wearing sunglasses and sitting on a wooden bench carving a vase.

Unidentified Inuk artist at an arts event, working on a ceramic vase with an abstract design. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218140)

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.


Annabelle Schattmann is an archival assistant for We Are Here: Sharing Stories, an initiative to digitize Indigenous content at Library and Archives Canada.

 

Inuit soldiers of the First World War: Lance Corporal John Shiwak

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

A black and white photograph of a young Inuk man in a military uniform staring towards the camera.

Lance Corporal John Shiwak, First Royal Newfoundland Regiment, c. 1915. Courtesy of Veteran’s Affairs Canada

As we remember the sacrifices of the soldiers who fought in the First and Second World Wars, many of us are aware of the First Nations and Métis soldiers who fought for our country. But only a few of us may know about the Inuit soldiers who also fought alongside Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike. My great-great-uncle, Lance Corporal John Shiwak, was one of those men. Due to his skills as a hunter, he became a sniper—“one of the best in the British Army,” according to a fellow officer.

My uncle hailed from Nunatsiavut, the Inuit region in northern and central Labrador, which was part of the British Dominion of Newfoundland in 1914. When the call came for Newfoundland men to enlist, it also made its way up the north coast of Labrador to the Inuit men of these settlements. Inuit culture was, and still is, largely a non-confrontational culture. Many of these young Inuit men were encouraged to enlist by people in positions of authority, such as Dr. Harry Paddon, a physician for the International Grenfell Association. Regardless of their motivations, approximately fifteen Inuit men enlisted and set sail for England in the summer of 1915.

A black and white photograph of two Inuit women and an Inuit child standing beside a wooden house.

Hopedale, Newfoundland and Labrador, 1913. Credit: Edith S. Watson (e010791418)

What a culture shock it must have been for these men who, like my uncle, were all from tiny, isolated communities of a few hundred people at most. In addition to the size, hustle and bustle of European towns and cities, the worldview was very different. Although Inuit hunt for survival, we respect each life we take and are taught from a young age to not cause an animal pain or distress. When we take a shot, we want to be certain it is precise and effective. Especially during the early 20th century, when the cost and scarcity of ammunition meant that every bullet had to count. Sometimes that meant going home empty handed.

I imagine those Inuit soldiers felt exactly the same way when they discharged their firearms in war. It must have been a huge adjustment for them to fire in haste, knowing they may have wounded someone. However, they knew that the men on the other side of the trenches had to be stopped for others to live, just as animals in Labrador had to die for their families to live. I imagine it was the only way to reconcile themselves with the horrors of war.

A black and white photograph of trees and white houses with black roofs. In the background, there is a boat on the water.

Hudson’s Bay Company Buildings, Rigolet, Labrador, September 1926. Photo Credit: L.T. Burwash (a099501)

The story of my great-great-uncle Lance Corporal John Shiwak is unique because in addition to his traditional activities as a hunter, trapper and fisherman, he was also a writer, poet and artist. He wrote many letters from the front lines to his friend Lacey Amy, a journalist and author from Ontario. Mr. Amy wrote the article “An Eskimo Patriot” in the July 1918 issue of The Canadian Magazine, telling of their friendship and some of Uncle John’s feelings during the war.

The duration of the war was wearing on him. He had no close friends, none to keep warm the link with his distant home. In September he lamented: “I have no letters from home since July. There will be no more now till the ice breaks”. And in his last he longed again for the old hunting days. Labrador, that had never satisfied his ambitions, looked warm and friendly to him now… That was in mid-November. A month later an official envelope came to me. Inside was my last letter. On its face was the soulless stamp. “Deceased”.

Every year on Remembrance Day, our family would talk about Uncle John with a quiet reverence, remembering the deep grief experienced when he did not return home. I have yet to meet a Labradorian living elsewhere who does not long to return to Labrador. The connection that we have to the land is difficult to express. We see firsthand how the land provides us with everything that we need to survive. Many generations of history are embedded in not only the community, but also each fishing spot, trapline, woodcutting path, hunting ground and berry-picking spot. This creates a special bond between people and the land. To be away from Labrador is to be disconnected from a piece of ourselves.

When I first visited the Canadian War Museum, I was drawn to the recreation of a First World War trench. Visitors can walk through it and put themselves in the shoes of soldiers on the front lines. As I slowly made my way through the trench, it affected me deeply. Tears streamed down my face as I imagined Uncle John huddled in the mud, writing in his journal or sketching images of the land and animals, longing for the peace and solitude of his ancestral home. A home that he would never see again.

A black and white photograph of a cemetery behind a fence and small leafless trees near Cambrai, France. There is a house and a farm in the background.

Raillencourt British Cemetery near Cambrai. Shiwak was not buried in this cemetery, but was equally far from home. (a004409-v8)

During the battle of Cambrai on November 20, 1917, an exploding shell killed Uncle John and six other soldiers. Eighty-eight years later, in 2005, my cousin, Jason Sikoak (formerly written as Shiwak), took part in the Aboriginal Spiritual Journey. In this journey, a group of Indigenous people travelled to Europe to honour Indigenous soldiers. Jason told me that during this journey, Uncle John’s spirit visited him in a dream. We hope that he followed Jason back to the shores of Rigolet and that he is at peace.

A black and white photograph of ships in body of water. There are trees in the foreground of the photo.

A point of land seen from a distance with Hudson’s Bay Company buildings along the shoreline and boats anchored in the cove. Rigolet, c.1930. Photo credit: Fred. C. Sears (e010771588)

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 archivist in  the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Chief Poundmaker: Revisiting the legacy of a peacemaker

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 Anna Heffernan

Pîhtokahanapiwiyin was a Plains Cree chief who was known as Chief Poundmaker in English. In 1885, he was tried and convicted of treason-felony because of his alleged involvement in the North-West Rebellion/North-West Resistance. On May 23, 2019, 134 years later, the Canadian government posthumously exonerated him and officially apologized to the Poundmaker Cree Nation of Saskatchewan, which is home to many of his descendants. His people, and other Plains First Nations who passed down accounts of his life, remember Poundmaker as a leader who remained committed to peace even when faced with dire circumstances. After decades of advocacy by his First Nation community, Poundmaker’s story is also coming to the attention of the broader Canadian public thanks to his exoneration. At Library and Archives Canada, we have many photographs and documents that help to tell this story.

Poundmaker was born around 1842 to a Stoney Nakoda father and a Métis mother of French Canadian and Cree descent, near Battleford in what is now Saskatchewan. In the early 1870s, an influential Blackfoot chief, Isapo-Muxika (Crowfoot), adopted Poundmaker and gave him the name Makoyi-koh-kin (Wolf Thin Legs), after a son whom Crowfoot had lost in battle. Poundmaker returned to the Cree after living for a time with the Blackfoot, but he maintained a friendship with his adopted father.

A black-and-white photograph of Poundmaker standing in front of a tipi wearing a fur hat, a shirt and vest, a blanket around his waist, and moccasins. Standing next to him is his wife, wearing a blanket around her shoulders over a dress.

Pîhtokahanapiwiyin (Poundmaker), right, with his wife, circa 1884 (a066596-v8)

A black-and-white photograph of Isapo-Muxika (Crowfoot), seated holding an eagle feather fan and wearing a hide shirt adorned with fur and beads or quills.

Isapo-Muxika (Crowfoot) in 1886 (c001871)

By August 1876, Poundmaker had become a headman and spoke at the Treaty Six negotiations. He was successful in having a famine clause added to the treaty, which promised that the Canadian government would provide rations to the signatory nations during times of food scarcity. Poundmaker recognized that the majority of his band favoured making a treaty, and he signed it on August 23, 1876. In 1879, Poundmaker and his band settled on a reserve about 40 miles (65 kilometres) west of Battleford.

Faced with the ever-increasing settlement of the West, which reduced the land and game that First Nations relied on to survive, Poundmaker urged his people to remain peaceful. He advised that war was no longer a feasible option, and in his words, “our only resource is our work, our industry, our farms.” In 1883, the Canadian government reduced the rations they had been providing to First Nations, and many were dissatisfied with the government’s failure to fulfill treaty promises.

In June 1884, several bands came to Poundmaker’s reserve to discuss the situation, including Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear) and his followers. With over 2,000 Cree gathered, they held a Thirst Dance (also known as a Sun Dance), a sacred ceremony in many Plains First Nations traditions. The North West Mounted Police attempted to disperse the Cree and prevent the Thirst Dance from taking place. Poundmaker and Big Bear were able to keep the peace for the time being, but it was clear that tensions between First Nations and the police were high, and it was becoming more difficult to restrain the young warriors in their bands.

In 1885, representatives of the Métis in the District of Saskatchewan, North-West Territories, wrote to Louis Riel, who was living in Montana territory at the time. They were also experiencing difficulty because of increasing white settlement and lack of government recognition of their rights, and they asked Riel to return to the region to help. Leaders of the Cree and other First Nations continued to meet with each other and discuss their worsening predicament. With buffalo herds in decline, hunting was no longer a reliable source of food. The transition to agriculture was difficult, and both First Nations and settler farms in the region were failing to yield sufficient crops. Many Cree were starving, and their leaders were desperate to find a solution.

In the eyes of the settler-Canadian press, the Métis movement and the First Nations movement were the same. In fact, although they had many of the same grievances, the Métis and First Nations leaders were far from being united. Poundmaker sought to pressure the Canadian government into honouring its treaty promises through peaceful means. But as the Métis resistance grew, some of Poundmaker’s band members joined in fighting alongside them. In papers seized from Louis Riel at Batoche, there are French and English translations of a letter from Poundmaker to Riel, in which Poundmaker responds to a letter from Riel. Poundmaker’s reply was likely translated from Cree to French for Riel.

Handwritten letter, written in English

Translations of Poundmaker’s letter to Riel, found among Riel’s papers seized at Batoche. (e011303062)

The letter is undated. Based on its contents, it was likely written after the Battle of Duck Lake, the initial engagement of the North-West Rebellion/North-West Resistance between the North West Mounted Police and commander Gabriel Dumont’s Métis forces. In this letter, Poundmaker expresses respect for Riel but also makes it clear that he is not interested in joining the fight and is ready to negotiate with the military. As the translation reads, “We have all laid down our arms and we wish that the war was finished between us and when the General arrives I am ready to treat with him (hear him literally) with the most sincere intentions of the most complete submission.”

Poundmaker saw the Métis victory at Duck Lake as an opportunity. He wanted to take advantage of the uncertain state that the Canadian government found itself in to negotiate for supplies and rations. His people desperately needed these, and the government was obliged by treaty to provide them. Poundmaker’s band and a Stoney Nakoda band that was camping with them went to Battleford to open negotiations with the Indian Agent. The white settlers had deserted the town and holed up in the fort with the Indian Agent. After waiting for a day, the starving band members looted the empty Battleford homes for food, despite Poundmaker’s attempts to prevent this action. Although greatly exaggerated by the press at the time, the “looting of Battleford” was an act of desperation, not an attempt to start a conflict.

When the Indian Agent would not agree to meet with Poundmaker, the band left the town and set up camp at Cut Knife Creek. Some of the warriors erected a warriors’ lodge at the camp, signifying that the warrior society had taken control. Meanwhile, Lieutenant-Colonel William Otter and his column of soldiers travelled to Battleford. On April 31, 1885, he set out with over 300 men to attack Poundmaker’s band in retaliation for the perceived attack on Battleford. They arrived at Cut Knife Creek on May 2. Poundmaker did not take part in the battle, which lasted for seven hours before Otter withdrew. Poundmaker convinced the warriors not to pursue the retreating army, which prevented many losses. Following this attack, many of the warriors in Poundmaker’s camp departed to join the Métis forces in Batoche. On May 12, Riel’s forces were defeated. Upon learning this, Poundmaker sent a message to Battleford offering to negotiate a peace. Major-General Frederick Middleton replied that he would not negotiate and demanded Poundmaker’s unconditional surrender. On May 26, Poundmaker obliged and came to Battleford, where he was arrested

Oil painting of a large group of First Nations people sitting and standing in a semi-circle with tipis in the background. Chief Poundmaker is seated on the ground in the centre with a ceremonial pipe in front of him. General Middleton is on the right seated in a chair, with several army men standing behind him.

The Surrender of Poundmaker to Major-General Middleton at Battleford, Saskatchewan, on May 26, 1885. Oil painting by R.W. Rutherford, 1887 (e011165548_s1)

On August 17, 1885, Poundmaker’s trial began in Regina. He was charged with treason-felony. The trial lasted for two days. In our collection, we have a written account of the testimony that Poundmaker gave at his trial. This account was found in a box of miscellaneous files in the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development fonds. Unfortunately, there is no indication of the author of this account.

A handwritten page in English.

A written account of Poundmaker’s testimony from his 1885 trial (e011303044)

Poundmaker spoke to the court in Cree, while an interpreter translated his words into English. According to the account, the Chief’s words were translated as, “Everything I could do was done to prevent bloodshed. Had I wanted war, I would not be here now, I would be on the prairie. You did not catch me, I gave myself up. You have got me because I wanted peace.” The jury deliberated for half an hour before returning a verdict of guilty. The judge sentenced him to three years in a penitentiary. The impact of this decision on Poundmaker was immediately apparent. According to the author of this account, upon hearing his sentence, Poundmaker said, “Hang me now. I would rather die than be locked up.”

For a man who had spent his life on the land, hunting and leading, the effects of incarceration were profoundly detrimental. After only one year in the Stony Mountain Penitentiary, Poundmaker’s health had declined so much that he was released. Four months after his release, he died of a lung hemorrhage while visiting his adopted father Crowfoot on the Siksika Blackfoot reserve.

Nothing can truly right the injustice of Poundmaker’s imprisonment, or reverse the damage that the loss of his leadership had on his band and the Plains Cree. However, recognizing this injustice is a step toward greater understanding between Canadians and Indigenous peoples.

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.


Anna Heffernan is an archivist/researcher for We Are Here: Sharing Stories, an initiative to digitize Indigenous content at Library and Archives Canada.

Charles Gimpel and the Canadian Arctic: 1958–1968

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 Miranda Virginillo

Charles Gimpel was an English photographer and art collector who travelled in the Canadian Arctic many times between 1958 and 1968, capturing moments of Inuit life. In 1958, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) funded Gimpel’s trip from Winnipeg to Churchill, Manitoba, and to various ports around the Foxe Basin and northern Hudson Bay. In return, the HBC received photographs of their stores and the products in use in Kangiqliniq (Rankin Inlet), Igluligaarjuk (Chesterfield Inlet), Pangnirtung and other locations. The Department of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources Canada funded subsequent trips to the Arctic, in varying degrees. Gimpel’s patrons largely determined his activities in what was then part of the Northwest Territories (present-day Nunavut). Gimpel’s correspondence, articles, journals, notebooks and large number of slides in the Charles Gimpel fonds chronicle the beginning of an era of artistic production in the Canadian Arctic. The notebooks from his first trip in 1958 are particularly specific about his activities and demonstrate who and what would influence the rest of his career. Gimpel’s notebooks and photographs detail the places he travelled, the people he encountered and the conversations he had with them.

Colour photograph of an Inuk man, Kove, and Charles Gimpel dressed in brown-and-white fur parkas. The photo is very hazy because of a snowstorm.

Charles Gimpel (right), whose Inuit nickname was Ukjuk, with friend and guide Kove in a snowstorm near Inuksugalait (Inuksuk Point, Enukso Point), possibly Kinngait (Cape Dorset), May 1968 (e011212607)

My job as a Carleton University practicum student was to record the details of the places where Gimpel went and the people he met during his travels, to decipher his notebooks written in a personal shorthand, and to determine the location of a hand-drawn map. The first task was no small feat. The trip between Winnipeg and Churchill took five days by train, and Gimpel was interested in the stories of everyone he encountered on the journey. During his first trip alone, Gimpel recorded varying levels of information for approximately 40 named people, and for many more who were unidentified.

In deciphering Gimpel’s notebooks, the code followed the same pattern throughout: date, location, film conditions, subjects and, noted later, the four-digit identifier for the film roll in his collection. For example, “6241” indicated roll 41, taken in 1962.

The map refers to an arrangement of inuksuit (plural for inuksuk) at Inuksugalait (Inuksuk Point, Enukso Point). Inuksuit are cairns to mark a place for others or oneself. They serve many purposes, from being navigational aids to communicating good fishing spots or food caches. Gimpel recorded the height of each inuksuk and the distances between them, measured in feet. He also laid “claim” to the inuksuit by naming them after his friends and companions. The shorter inuksuit were named after children he had met on his trip: Nuvuolia (Nuvuoliak, Nuvoalia) and his adopted brother Irhalook, and Kove’s son Iali. The larger inuksuit were named after his interpreters, Pingwartok and Johanessie, and the sculptor Tunu. Gimpel even went so far as to give one inuksuk his own Inuit nickname, Ukjuk, which means bearded seal.

Hand-drawn map on white paper in a spiral notebook. The map consists of red circles with black lines between them, names of the inuksuit, numbers in brackets and a compass indicating East, South, West and North.

Map of inuksuit at Inuksuk Point, page 10 of document, 1964 (e011307430)

At the end of his 1958 journal, Gimpel recorded his meeting with James (Jim) Houston. This introduction solidified Gimpel’s interest in the Canadian Arctic for the rest of his life. Over the next decade, both men coordinated their efforts with Terry Ryan of the West Baffin Island Eskimo Cooperative (WBIEC) and the heads of other co-operatives in the Arctic to help develop this source of income for Inuit. Gimpel provided international venues, including the Gimpel Fils art gallery in London, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the Bezalel National Museum in Jerusalem, with art from Kinngait (Cape Dorset), Iqaluit (formerly Frobisher Bay) and nearby camps. Photographs from his 1964 and 1968 trips capture stone carvers at work in Iqaluit and at the WBIEC.

A colour photograph of an Inuk man wearing a dark jacket and cap as he carves white statues.

Henry Evaluardjuk carving, Iqaluit, April 1964 (e011212063)

A colour photograph of an Inuk man sitting behind a stone sculpture with his tools in front of it.

Unidentified sculptor, Iqaluit, April 1964 (e011212065)

Gimpel’s trips were taken at a time when many people from southern Canada and abroad were discovering the unique Inuit art and culture. His journals and the photographs he took during his trips to the Arctic are now available online. The Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds, the James Houston fonds and the Canadian Eskimo Arts Council series in the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development fonds also reflect this pivotal time in history.

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.


Miranda Virginillo, from the School of Art and Culture at Carleton University, is an undergraduate practicum student in the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

From Assimilation to Negotiation: The 1970s Indian Claims Commission, digitized

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 Masha Davidovic

The Indian Claims Commission of the 1970s came into existence with a bang, as a footnote to Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s government’s proposed 1969 White Paper (formally known as the Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy). The White Paper was truly explosive, an assimilative document laying out the government’s intention to abolish Indian status, the Indian Act, and the reserve system. It set off a storm of resistance and activist mobilization from coast to coast to coast. Suddenly, First Nations communities across the country faced an open threat that did not discern or discriminate, but that simply said: we will assimilate everyone at once into the Canadian body politic, there will be no more special treatment, no more Indian department, and no more “Indian problem.”

The swell of pan-Indigenous organization in response became a tidal wave that swept the White Paper aside—it was abashedly retracted in 1970—and kept on moving, as Inuit and the Métis Nation joined their voices with those of First Nations. We are still feeling the effects today: these were the years that saw the Calder case’s landmark recognition of ongoing Indigenous title and the founding of provincial and national Indigenous organizations, including the precursors to today’s Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), and Métis National Council (MNC). These years were marked by resistance and, sometimes, open antagonism, the crescendo of simmering pushback against government policy and conduct.

A typewritten memo, dated March 12, 1973, from President Andrew Rickard of Grand Council Treaty #9, on behalf of his people, about his intentions and expectations of working with all levels of government.

A memo from Andrew Rickard, President of Grand Council Treaty #9 (today’s Nishnawbe Aski Nation), March 12, 1973. Library and Archives Canada, page 3. (e011267219)

Yet the Indian Claims Commission, essentially a procedural footnote intended to tie up loose ends and bring to an end the era of Indigenous claims, might be called the most enduring legacy of the original 1969 Statement. The newly digitized primary materials of the Commission tell the story of the tumultuous 1970s, but also that of the Commission’s surprising success. Adapting to a shifting political context, it took on the role of mediator between the Crown and Indigenous communities and ultimately did much to lay the groundwork for contemporary claims processes in Canada.

The Collection

The Commission was, for the most part, a one-man office.

A page of typewritten text with a picture centred at the top of Dr. Lloyd I. Barber, a middle-aged man with a brush cut, dressed in a suit and a tie, and talking on the telephone

Biography and picture of Dr. Lloyd I. Barber, from a keynote presentation at a conference. Library and Archives Canada, page 77 (e011267331)

By the time the Regina-born, Saskatoon-based academic Dr. Lloyd I. Barber began his duties as Indian Claims Commissioner, his terms of reference had changed. Rather than adjudicating and closing off claims, he was researching histories, assessing grievances, and building contacts and relationships. He corresponded constantly with Ottawa, as well as with a veritable who’s who of Indigenous leaders. In many of these letters, it is clear that he saw damage control as a large part of his job. His relative independence from Ottawa allowed him leeway to echo Indigenous communities’ calls for justice and equity, a role he played without hesitation.

A typed letter, dated November 22, 1974, from Indian Claims Commissioner Lloyd I. Barber to Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Judd Buchanan, calling for the federal government’s affirmation and support of Indigenous treaty rights in view of provincial violations.

Letter from Commissioner Lloyd I. Barber to Judd Buchanan, Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, concerning hunting, fishing, and trapping rights of prairie First Nations. Library and Archives Canada, page 35 (e011267232)

A veteran professor of commerce, Barber established a consistent tone across his letters—patient, calm, reassuring, and often quite apologetic. He embodies a sensitive and sympathetic figure, defining his plain language carefully against that of bureaucrats and civil servants. This persona is stamped on the materials of the fonds and cannot be easily separated from the successes of the Commission as a whole.

A newspaper clipping from Native Press, November 18, 1974, on Commissioner Lloyd Barber’s speech in Yellowknife, which characterizes the government’s assimilative approach to Indigenous status as insufficient and dangerous to pursue.

Newspaper clipping from Native Press, November 18, 1974, pertaining to a speech given by Lloyd Barber in Yellowknife. Library and Archives Canada, page 59 (e011267332)

The true litmus test for the Commission’s successes consisted in the dialogues Barber established, and here the research and reference materials assembled by the Commission are revealing. The Commission collected a wide swath of material, organized by province, band, and claim—from historical records from the early nineteenth century onward, to transcripts of parliamentary debates, to endless clippings from newspapers, many of them from local First Nations papers. These clippings offer snapshots and summaries of issues on the ground between Indigenous and non-Indigenous society in the heated 1970s. They also reflect the Commission’s function in assessing not just the policy and logistics of land claims, but the public perception of these issues, particularly in First Nations communities. These media sources provide a rich backdrop in understanding both the Commission’s general recommendations and its concrete interventions in specific grievance processes.

A newspaper clipping, providing an example of Commissioner Barber’s process of collecting information from local media sources.

Newspaper clipping pertaining to the 1975 Dene Declaration. Library and Archives Canada, page 21 (e011267159)

In 1977, the Indian Claims Commission turned in a compelling report summarizing its findings and recommendations. It was superseded by the Canadian Indian Rights Commission, which continued the work and built on the relationships Barber had initiated. Born in struggle and contradiction, Barber’s Commission had managed to not only walk the wobbly tightrope between government and Indigenous communities, but had actually succeeded in rerouting much of the swell of activism of the 1970s back into channels of dialogue and negotiation. It remains a decisive factor in a decisive period in Crown-Indigenous relations.

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.


Masha Davidovic is an archival assistant on We are Here: Sharing Stories, the Indigenous digitization initiative, in the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Louis Riel’s ill-fated Ottawa journey

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 Anna Heffernan

During his lifetime, Louis David Riel was a controversial figure—a leader of two uprisings, regarded as either a hero or a traitor—but today he is recognized for his contributions to the development of the Métis Nation, the province of Manitoba, and Canada. In 1992, he was named a founder of Manitoba, and in 2016, he was recognized as the province’s first leader. Since 2008, the third Monday in February has been celebrated as Louis Riel Day in Manitoba.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has a rich selection of materials relating to Louis Riel and the movements he led. The We Are Here: Sharing Stories project digitizes Indigenous-related materials in LAC’s collections. One of our priorities is to digitize the documentary legacy of Riel to make it more accessible to Métis Nation communities and researchers. While Riel is one of Canada’s most famous historical figures, some aspects of his life story are less known.

Most Canadians will recall that Louis Riel led the Red River Resistance in 1869–1870. At this time, the Hudson’s Bay Company sold their rights to Rupert’s Land, granted to them by the British Crown, to the Dominion of Canada. Métis Nation and First Nations peoples who traditionally inhabited the area did not recognize the Hudson’s Bay Company’s claim to the land, and therefore saw this as an illegitimate sale. In response to the sale of their homelands, Louis Riel and his colleagues formed a provisional government, pictured below, at Fort Garry.

A black-and-white photograph of 14 men, arranged in three rows (the front two rows sitting and the back row standing), with Louis Riel seated in the centre.

Louis Riel (centre) with the councillors of the provisional government in 1870 (a012854)

However, not everyone supported Riel’s provisional government. A group of Ontario settlers were captured by the provisional government’s forces while preparing to attack Fort Garry. One of the group, Thomas Scott, was executed for insubordination on March 4, 1870. Despite this incident, negotiations with Canada continued, and Riel successfully negotiated the terms of Manitoba’s entry into Confederation. When the negotiations were complete, a military expedition was sent from Ontario to enforce Canadian control over Manitoba. Many in Ontario viewed Riel as a traitor and murderer for the execution of Thomas Scott. Fearing for his life, Riel fled to St. Paul, Minnesota.

One of the less-well-known stories of Louis Riel’s life is his ill-fated journey to Ottawa. In 1873, Riel was elected as the Member of Parliament for Provencher, Manitoba, and he was re-elected twice in 1874. Riel travelled to Ottawa to take his seat, but his foray into federal politics was to be short-lived. His attempt to sit in the House of Commons is documented in our collection by some interesting material. The first item is the test roll bearing his signature, pictured below, which every Member of Parliament signed upon taking the oath.

Page with six columns of signatures. Louis Riel’s signature is seen at bottom right.

Caption: Page from the House of Commons test roll signed by Louis Riel (e010771238)

Going to Ontario at this time was an enormous risk for Riel. After the execution of Thomas Scott, Ontarians reacted with anger—particularly Protestants, because Scott had been a member of the Orange Order, a Protestant fraternal organization. In response, the premier of Ontario offered a $5,000 reward for Riel’s capture, and a warrant was put out for his arrest. In Parliament, a motion to expel Riel was brought by Mackenzie Bowell, an Orangeman from Ontario. The motion passed, and Riel would not return to the House of Commons, despite being re-elected a third time. The second piece of material relating to Riel’s journey to the capital is the photograph below. Before leaving hastily, Riel had his photograph taken in Ottawa, inscribed with the caption “Louis Riel, MP.”

Sepia-tone vignette photograph of Louis Riel facing the camera, with handwritten inscription underneath reading “Louis Riel, MP.”

Caption: Studio portrait taken in Ottawa after Riel was elected as the Member of Parliament for Provencher, Manitoba (e003895129)

In 1875, Riel went into exile in the United States. From 1879, he lived in Montana Territory, where he married Marguerite Monet, dite Bellehumeur, in 1881. They had three children. He followed the buffalo hunt and worked as an agent, trader, woodcutter and later teacher. Riel returned to Canada, to Batoche in what is now Saskatchewan, in July 1884.

The test roll and the photograph of Riel in Ottawa are examples of how even some of the small items in our collection can illuminate moments in Canadian history. By researching and digitizing more of the Indigenous documentary heritage in our collections, we aim to share the stories not only of famous figures like Riel but also of many other Indigenous people in 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 content and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Anna Heffernan is an archivist/researcher for We Are Here: Sharing Stories, an initiative to digitize Indigenous content at Library and Archives Canada.