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Learning from the Research Data Archives: Experimental Approaches to Stewarding Indigenous Cultural Memory


What responsibilities does an archivist of settler heritage have when working with records that document Indigenous cultural heritage? How can archival theory and practice be reimagined in ways that centre Indigenous notions of ownership and stewardship? What shape is a decolonial archival praxis taking in the Canadian context? These are some of the core questions that have guided this research data archives digitization project.

The research data archives project is the result of a longstanding partnership between an anthropologist and the First Nations community with whom she has been working for over 30 years. The two linked aims of the project have been to digitize the research data archives and work with the community to ensure that it ultimately has full control over how the archives are managed; who has access to them; where they are to be housed; and how the archives will be preserved over the long-term. I was brought on to the team to digitize the research data archives. My work has consisted of digitizing over 60 hours of audio recordings; over 2,100 colour photographs; over 40 pages of genealogical records; and migrating over 50 interview transcripts from legacy digital media.

The presentation will provide an overview of the project from my perspective as the settler archivist who has completed the digitization of the records. I will describe the digitization process, including the development of workflows, selection of digitization standards, creation of a metadata application profile, and analog to digital conversion. I will also discuss how legal and policy frameworks such as the OCAPTM Principles (First Nations Centre, 2007) and the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials (First Archivist Circle, 2007) have guided project design and implementation. Furthermore, I will describe the ongoing work with the community to ensure its ultimate ownership and control over the research data archives. 

The presentation will foreground questions of community access, capacity-building, and digital preservation. I will situate these questions within the recent literature on Indigenous archival methods (Christen, 2011; Christen, 2015; Duarte and Belarde-Lewis, 2015) and new approaches to collaboration and archival stewardship (Caswell & Cifor, 2016; Christen & Anderson, 2019; Iacovino, 2010; McKemmish, Faulkhead, & Russell, 2011). The presentation will serve as a valuable case study of the ways in which archival theory and practice are being reimagined in relation to the stewardship of Indigenous cultural memory.


Samuel Mickelson

Samuel currently serves as Digitization Specialist at Ryerson University. Samuel holds a Bachelor of Arts from McGill University and a Master of Library and Information Studies from the University of British Columbia. He has previously worked in library and archival roles at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and the Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children.

Recorded Presentation

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