Whose 150? Aboriginal Un-History Month exhibition highlights Indigenous work at the university

***This article originally appeared on ctlt.ubc.ca.

By Emi Sasagawa.

This year, many Canadians are celebrating the 150th anniversary of Canada. For them, the development of Canada from a colony to an independent nation is the story of the emergence of a democratic nation exceptional in both its history and promise. That is, however, a history that looks very different to many Indigenous people in Canada, who view the growth of the Canada and its people as a story of dispossession, repression and hardship.”

Linc Kesler, from his exhibit introduction statement

The Aboriginal Un-History Month exhibition, which was on display this year from June to the end of August at the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, brought together Indigenous work, resources and collaborations from across campus. Additionally, this year’s exhibit held a space for those who passed by to consider the juxtaposition of our current location, historical context and social relations. According to Sarah Dupont, the Aboriginal Engagement Librarian at UBC, the annual event is a good way to showcase the conversations that are happening at UBC and highlight the ongoing relationships, projects and collaborations that extend past UBC Point Grey campus.

Some of the annual event’s consistent partners have been the Native Youth Program (NYP), the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT) and the Musqueam First Nation.

The concept of (un)history has been used by the team to challenge the designation of Aboriginal History Month that the Canadian government has granted to the month of June. This designation, while an important measure to recognize Indigenous people in Canada, also contributes to the persistence of a stereotype that Indigenous Canadians’ role in nation building was only a historic one. This year’s theme, Whose 150? challenged this stereotype and created a space for people to contemplate this question.

The origin of this year’s exhibit

According to Dupont, the process of putting the exhibition together is always creative. “The exhibition takes place in the Learning Centre, where many people walk through the space on their way to study, to work, to use computers, or have coffee. This space, therefore, is an important contributor to the sharing of the ideas and stories in the exhibition with those who might not otherwise actively seek out to engage with these topics through a museum. With the help of skilled museum curatorial partners and valued content contributors, each year’s theme and the stories told within it are creatively developed in a short time frame so that the exhibition responds quickly to current events.”

This year the team was given the opportunity to have a dialogue about Canada’s 150th anniversary.

“Several of my colleagues in the UBC Library were thinking about the 150th anniversary in terms of our relationship on unceded Musqueam territory and what it means to be working at a university and to be inhabiting this space,” explains Dupont.

With this in mind, the (Un)History team decided to bring that dialogue into a more central space and to facilitate broader engagement around the topic. When creating the exhibition, the curatorial partners wanted to introduce the audience not only to the work, programs and projects that are taking place on campus, but also invite them to think about how they fit into this conversation at UBC, as a student, staff member, faculty member, and as a community member.


The Musqueam First Nation curated three of the cases on display for the exhibition. One of them told the story of Musqueam, specifically of the land. The second case talked about the curriculum resources developed by the community that are available for youth and borrowed through the Museum of Anthropology.

The third case curated by Musqueam was a conversation about the c̓əsnaʔəm exhibit that is still ongoing at the Museum of Vancouver. The exhibit was the focus of the Aboriginal Un-History Month exhibition in 2015.

“The emphasis of Musqueam’s ongoing efforts to assert rights as a First Nation is a really important conversation to keep having in the Learning Centre, as it is an multidisciplinary gathering space for all students. It is an opportunity for students to learn about and reflect on what it means when Elder Larry Grant says Musqueam has been here since time immemorial. Students have a responsibility to understand the perspectives of Indigenous peoples on whose traditional territories they are learning, here and now as students, and wherever they may go in the future as alumni of this institution,” added Dupont.

The Native Youth Program

Pam Brown, Curator, Pacific Northwest at the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) and the Director of the Native Youth Program (NYP), has been involved with the Aboriginal Un-History Month exhibition since it launched five years ago.

NYP is a summer program for urban aboriginal youth (ages 15-18) currently enrolled in secondary school. It provides summer employment and training to 6 urban Aboriginal high school students and 2 UBC students as program manager and research assistant. The goal is to produce young aboriginal leaders, provide meaningful direction and mentoring, enhance employment opportunities for aboriginal youth and promote public understanding of the diversity and richness of aboriginal cultures within the UBC community. While the core program is consistent year to year, evolution in project learning and innovation in partnerships and use of digital media delivers new elements.

The NYP project that was showcased in this year’s exhibition focused on comic animation. The youth had a week-long intensive workshop with Mohawk artist Skawennati at Emily Carr University of Art and Design where they learnt digital storytelling and made a machinima.

The Heiltsuk language mobilization project

In addition to her work with the NYP, Brown continues work on a five-year Heiltsuk Language and Culture Collaborative Documentation and Digitization Project with the Heiltsuk Cultural Centre in Bella Bella. Co-participants include Mark Turin from UBC’s First Nations and Endangered Languages Program; Kim Lawson, Reference Librarian, Xwi7xwa Library; Gerry Lawson, MOA’s Oral History Language Lab Coordinator; and Lisa Nathan, Assistant Professor at UBC’s School of Library, Archival and Information Studies and Coordinator of the First Nations Curriculum Concentration. Heiltsuk Co-participants include Jennifer Carpenter, Director, the Heiltsuk Cultural Centre, Frances Brown, Heiltsuk Language Teacher, Bella Bella Community School and Rory Housty, Language Teacher, Heiltsuk Community College. The project continues to support the Heiltsuk First Nation in seeing their cultural archives and language resources digitized, inventoried, and connected with audiences and practices, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, through a resource portal. The project involves teaching the language in Bella Bella and Vancouver in the near future, and developing technologies and digital educational resources in the community that will support innovative language dissemination at MOA.

Dupont believes projects like this one are shifting the ways in which First Nations and universities interact.

“Indigenous participation in research design and attribution is becoming a more commonly expected approach for researchers to take. Now, we see examples of research relationships that have been struck in ways that directly contribute to the expressed needs of First Nation, rather than just the direct research interests of the researcher. Though there are still areas and examples where there can be inequalities in the researcher-participant relationship, respectfully-constructed and conducted projects, like the Heiltsuk language mobilization project, demonstrate a shift in how the academy is viewing its valuation of reciprocity in its relationships with First Nations,” explained Dupont.

The Indigitization Program

Indigitization was featured in this year’s exhibition of Whose 150? as it uniquely repositions the role of the university as a contributor to the preservation and digitization of First Nations cultural heritage.

“As publically funded institutions, academic libraries focus on collecting materials from people and communities. Thanks to an endowment by Irving K. Barber, special funding allows for the in situ digitization of First Nations cultural heritage content by community members. This eliminates the barrier of making culturally sensitive materials publically available, while still addressing a timely need to stabilize and make available extremely valuable content accessibly to appropriate community members,” says Dupont.

Video: Indigitization: It Takes a Community

***This video originally appeared on digitalassetsymposium.com

Gerry Lawson, Oral History and Language Lab at Vancouver Museum of Anthropology, UBC.

“Precious fragments” of indigenous knowledge are increasingly held captive in obsolete audio-visual media formats. The ethics, culture and practices of traditional information management have served as significant obstacles to media digitization at most small institutions. The innovative Indigitization Program breaks through some of these barriers that First Nations communities in British Columbia are faced with in developing information management practice appropriate to their needs. Gerry will discuss his role in developing the resources that formed the grant program, as well as how the Indigitization team manages program evolution to become more effective and resilient.


Gerry Lawson is a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation, manages the Oral History and Language lab at the University of British Columbia Museum Of Anthropology and is the technology lead for the innovative UBC Indigitization program. He takes a practical, entrepreneurial approach to heritage media preservation with a specialization in Indigenous knowledge recordings. Along with a growing team of friends and colleagues, Gerry tries to foster success through the creation of accessible jargon-free resources, partnerships and communities of practice.

With an Eye on the Future, First Nations in Canada Are Switching From Audio Cassettes to Digital

***This article originally appeared on GlobalVoices.org and is also available in French, Spanish, Malagasy, Italian, and Japanese.

Audio cassette digitization workshop. Photo provided by the UBC Library.

While not quite obsolete, audio cassettes are losing their appeal as long-term storage solutions of sound recordings. Many First Nations communities across British Columbia, Canada, are in possession of hundreds of cassette tapes filled with hours and hours of audio recordings of elder stories, traditional songs, and other key elements of their culture. Given this shift away from the analog technology, they are concerned that much of this knowledge may be lost if they don’t come up with strategies to transfer their contents to digital formats.

A project called Indigitization has stepped in to providing funding and training for these First Nations communities to digitize those recordings as a way to preserve them for future generations. This collaborative project between the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, the First Nations Technology Council, and three First Nations communities — Heiltsuk, Ktunaxa, and ‘Namgis — created an online toolkit with step-by-step instructions for communities interested in undertaking the digitization process.

Among the sections contained in the toolkit include digitization best practices and standards, instructions on adding metadata, as well as additional tips on digitizating photographs and maps.

Indigitization logo created by Alison O. Bremner, a Tlingit artist.

This grants program makes funding available to First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities to pay for equipment, digitization technical staff, and travel to and from trainings. Five rounds of funding have been completed and a sixth call for proposals recently closed in March 2017. Examples of projects funded by the Indigitization Grant Program include funds awarded to:

  • the Tsilhqot’in National Government to digitize “Tsilhqot’in Elder interview cassette recordings dating back to 1999-2000 an estimated 400 cassettes. Elder interviews are in the Tsilhqot’in/Chilcotin language, sadly some of those elders are no longer with us today”
  • the Hupacasath First Nation to digitize “83 audio cassettes containing over 240 hours of oral history from their elders. The audio tapes contain interviews with elders about land use, and stories of Hupacasath legends passed on from generation to generation.”

While digitizing will help these communities preserve this information, it does not automatically mean that it will be uploaded to the internet for public access. Another component of the toolkit is providing information on copyright, intellectual property, and different types of licenses to consider, but the Indigitization project makes it clear that “the decision regarding public access to any digitized information rests entirely with each First Nation.”

The project also put on a “Futures Forum” conference held in June 2016, which “brought together an emerging network of community-based information professionals and practitioners, academics, and a wider community of specialists who work to support context-appropriate information practices within Indigenous communities.” A summary of the panels and speakers can be found in the Stories from the Forum section.

Video: ASIS&T Presents… Indigitization: Supporting the Digitization, Preservation, and Management of Indigenous Community Knowledge

***This article originally appeared on blueprintdigital.com

Session Summary

Diverse Indigenous cultures thrived in British Columbia until assailed by mechanisms of colonization. One element of Indigenous resilience was embedding precious fragments of Community knowledge in magnetic media. These media are increasingly inaccessible due to the deterioration of their physical format.

Funding programs to digitize analog media often come with inappropriate accessibility requirements and taxing reporting. ll-suited “best practices” concerning information management serve as an extra barrier.

The panelists in this session share an awareness that existing information practices are firmly rooted in Western knowledge systems that are not always appropriate when dealing with Indigenous traditional knowledge. This session will add depth and nuance to issues surrounding the digitization of material related to Indigenous community knowledge and provide examples of ways to do this work while challenging institutional norms.

About the Speakers

Alissa Cherry, Research Manager at the Audrey & Harry Hawthorn Library & Archives at the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Alissa is a member of the Academy of Certified Archivists and holds an MLIS from UBC. Prior to joining MOA in 2014, Alissa managed the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs Resource Centre for 9 years, worked for both the BC Aboriginal Child Care Society and Xwi7xwa Library at UBC, and spent six years as Librarian in Yellowstone National Park.

Sarah Dupont, Metis from Prince George, B.C., is the Indigitization project manager. This project is one of her duties as the Aboriginal Engagement Librarian at UBC Library, specific to her work with the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre. She coordinates grant development and promotion, supports project participants, and identifies partnership opportunities.

Gerry Lawson, member of the Heiltsuk First Nation, is the Coordinator for the Oral History and Language Lab, at the UBC Museum of Anthropology and the technology lead for the Indigitization Program.

Video: Sarah DuPont speaks about Indigitization at Information Architecture Summit

***This video originally appeared on blueprintdigital.com


“Hi, my name is Sarah DuPont. I’m the Aboriginal Engagement Librarian at the University of British Columbia, and I’m here with the Indigitzation Program.

So, our topic was to illuminate everything about the Indigitization Program, and it was really fantastic to share a little bit about the work we do with First Nations community digital cultural heritage preservation.

We talked a little bit about why this program is important. It’s a grant-funded program that’s run out of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre at UBC. Essentially we told people that it’s about $10,000 matching grant funds that we give out to communities to help teach about audio cassette digitization and preservation and all the things that go along with digital cultural heritage preservation and management.

We talked a lot in our presentation about some of the challenges and barriers to doing this type of work in communities when we’re looking at issues of trust, cultural sensitivity, and the information. So, our program tries to build capacity in communities so that trust can be bridged between the university and communities.

If you want to get involved, we’d love to hear from folks. Our website is Indigitization.ca. We have a Twitter account, it’s @Indigitization. Our email address is in.digitization@ubc.ca.”

Five cohorts of Indigitization project participants unite for inaugural Indigitization Futures Forum at UBC

***This article originally appeared on bclaconnect.ca.

By Michelle Kaczmarek and Emily Guerrero.

Based at the Irving K. Barber Centre at the University of British Columbia, Indigitization is a collaborative project that provides grants and training to First Nations community groups to support their digitization projects. Digitizing First Nations materials involves unique challenges around access to information, storage of digitized material, and culturally appropriate knowledge organization systems. On June 10-12, 2016, past program participants met alongside others concerned with digitization practices and the management of Indigenous knowledge in communities to participate in the Indigitization Futures Forum. The Forum provided space to discuss past and future projects, share knowledge and best practices, and to work together to envision future paths for the community-based digitization work that Indigitization supports.

Marvin Williams from Lake Babine. Photo by Kyla Bailey.

At the forum, past participants spoke to the power of rooting their digitization projects within community, and discussed how specific community needs and protocol have shaped the outcome of their work. Joey Caro, from the Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group and Penelakut, discussed the need to prioritize traditional land use information according to which areas of the territories have projects proposed for them. Rory Housty from the Heiltsuk Cultural Education Centre spoke about his practice of digitizing recordings from families with upcoming potlatches, so that they can have access to those materials to help guide their practices. Other participants spoke of the complexity of representing sacred traditional knowledge within information systems, and shared the many ways in which communities have come together to augment existing systems to work for their needs, in some cases creating whole new open source systems to contain the knowledge.

Presenters demonstrated their deep personal connections to the work, and teased out ways of incorporating these relationships into the projects themselves. Several panel members spoke to the importance of engaging both elders and youth within their projects, to both help shape the outcome and provide hands-on access to the materials. Marvin Williams from Lake Babine generously shared some of the history of the people that was learned through their digitized tapes. They are keeping their culture strong by passing this knowledge and techniques to their youth.

Kate Hennessy discussed a project with the Dane-zaa people that incorporated participatory media making, where community members could come together to help curate the physical material which was to be digitized for the online gallery. This long-term approach to curation gave people time to raise and discuss concerns over local rights and the circulation of materials as they arose, and helped support participants’ ownership of the final galleries. Sherry Stump from the Tsilhqot’in Nation spoke about the Nation’s digitization of Traditional Use Studies, which took place from 1999-2001. Because the first release form did not account for digital access, the project has created a new form that specifically asks participants about their comfort with having information shared; elders can choose to make the materials publicly available for use only in educational purposes, or to keep it confidential.

Alongside presentations from past grant participants, Futures Forum attendees also heard speakers from various universities and organizations. During the lunchtime keynote address, UBC faculty enriched the conversation with perspectives from further afield; Dr. Candace Kaleimamoowahinekapu Galla discussed some of the ways in which technology is being harnessed to support language revitalization in Hawai’i, and Dr. Mark Turin shared his experiences helping to leverage collections back into community hands with the Digital Himalaya project.

With the focus of the weekend’s forum on looking to the future, presentations also contributed to the discussion of how community projects and the Indigitization program might evolve in the coming years. Panel guests provided plenty of inspiration and advice for those thinking about next steps in their projects. For many of those looking beyond their audiocassette digitization projects, the next big challenge is preserving the material housed on other deteriorating formats. Elizabeth McManus from Musqueam Archives discussed the idiosyncrasies of digitizing reel-to-reel audio recordings, and shared some of the unique aspects of the materials she’s handled in her work with Musqueam. Gerry Lawson from the Museum of Anthropology brought up ways in which digitization technology has changed over the past decade, and spoke to the need to move quickly with these projects, both to preserve deteriorating materials and to take advantage of the digitization technology while it is still available.

At the end of the forum, participants came together to brainstorm and share their knowledge needs around project management, funding, communities of practice, and digitizing other media formats. The consensus of these conversations highlighted both the diverse and deeply important work already being done to support community-based digitization work, and the desire for greater connection among community projects to learn and discuss ideas.

After this weekend of knowledge sharing and discussion, Indigitization hopes that the conversation will continue. The steering committee is excited to move forward, taking the stories and reflections shared at the forum and letting those guide the shape of the future of Indigitization. They hope to continue to create opportunities for communities to share experiences and knowledge.

The Futures Forum program, including video recordings of some presentations, can be viewed at the Stories from the Forum webpage. For more information about Indigitization and its grant program, please visit Indigitization.ca.

Michelle Kaczmarek is a PhD student and Emily Guerrero is a Master’s student at the University of British Columbia’s School of Library, Archival and Information Studies. Emily and Michelle are Research Assistants with the Sustaining Information Practices team. The team’s work with Indigitization is made possible by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

Indigitization program aims to preserve aboriginal history

***This article originally appeared on princegeorgecitizen.com.

By Samantha Wright Allen.

Even if aboriginal oral history is recorded, it still might need a second step to ensure it’s saved.

A new program, dubbed Indigitization, aims to help northern First Nations communities preserve that history in a digital form.

“We really want the communities themselves to identify what they want to do,” said Allan Wilson, University of Northern B.C.’s librarian.

UNBC announced Thursday the Northern B.C. Archives and Special Collections would be forming “a unique partnership” with the University of British Columbia’s Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, as well as UBC’s museum of anthropology and library and archival studies departments.

The archives have bought a digitizing kit so communities can come to them for help converting their oral archives into a future-friendly format.

“It’s for community audio cassette digitizing,” said Wilson, adding they have already done one workshop. There might be recordings out there from elders,” he said. “Audio degrades and we’re concerned about this.”

It will be offering an Indigitization Grant Program for a community-led approach, which will offer hands-on training workshops and the use of an Indigitization Tool Kit for the necessary conversion to “a preservation digital format.”

“The archives hopes to assist those indigenous communities in northern B.C. that are seeking to build capacity and effective in-house management of its digital heritage resources,” the UNBC announcement noted.

“There are obvious cultural sensitivities so really this is a community program where those communities identify with what do they want to convert,” Wilson said.

The archives already has three working memorandums with different bands for other projects, Wilson said, and the hope is to build similar partnerships.

“It’s early days, we’re working with folks, seeing the interest but also encouraging them to explore this opportunity and look at the Indigitization program and in particular to look at the grants.”

For more information on the program, interested communities can visit the Indigitization website at www.indigitization.ca or contact the Northern BC Archives at: archives@unbc.ca.

News from UBC’s Indigitization Program

***This article originally appeared on bclaconnect.ca.

By Sarah DuPont.

Since 2013, the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, the Museum of Anthropology, and the iSchool have supported 19 projects from B.C. First Nations organizations through the Indigitization: Aboriginal Audio Digitization and Preservation Program. This innovative initiative provides resources to digitize audiocassettes that contain important, and in many cases irreplaceable, recordings of spoken traditional knowledge. These resources include grant funding and in-person training, as well as access to digitization equipment and an online resource toolkit.

Digitization grants have typically required that digitized content be openly accessible. Key to the development of the Indigitization Program is the acknowledgement that First Nations heritage knowledge is often subject to complex traditional ownership and access protocols. Recipients of the Indigitization funding grant are not required to share their digitized content publically, but are encouraged to develop culturally informed access protocols and policies. This enables communities to retain control over their traditional knowledge recordings and share them in ethical and appropriate ways.

2015 Indigitization grant project participants receive audiocassette digitization training at UBC. Photo from UBC Library.

Success of the Indigitization program is measured by more than the quantity of audiocassettes that are digitized. The breadth and richness of participant-led projects is found in the relationships and networks that are developed. This includes how projects have engaged community members to contribute to the protection of their cultural knowledge via activities such as gatherings with Elders, social media discussions, and the discovery of previously unknown recordings. Future applications of the digitized information may enhance administrative, institutional, or organizational purposes (e.g., language curriculum development, learning tool innovation, land and water protection).

In 2016 the University of B.C.’s Indigitization Program will continue to grow its connections when it hosts a summer forum to bring previous and new participants together to discuss the goals of media management in Indigenous organizations.

The goal of this summer’s gathering (date to be announced) is to discuss the current challenges and opportunities by asking big picture questions about media management tools and strategies, as well as questions pertaining to access protocols for cultural materials. Training workshops are also being planned around this forum event based on participant interest. For example, the Sustainable Heritage Network team from Washington State University will give an introductory digitization workshop for other media formats.

The summer forum will take place in addition to the grant and training cycle for audiocassette digitization projects. Applications for grant funding are due on Feb. 26, 2016. Please share this opportunity with your relevant networks. Additional information is available at www.indigitization.ca.

Sarah Dupont is the Aboriginal Engagement Librarian X̱wi7x̱wa Library and the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre at the University of British Columbia. Her role at UBC Library includes providing reference and instruction services, outreach, and programming, in addition to managing the Indigitization Program. She has been the BCLA’s First Nations Interest Group convener since 2012.

Indigenous language and cultural knowledge preservation one byte at a time

***This article originally appeared on aboriginal.ubc.ca.

Aboriginal Audio and Digitization Program trainees & MOA staff: (left to right) Roger Patrick, Lake Babine Nation; Michelle George, Tsleil-Waututh Nation; Nadine Hafner, UBCIC; Marvin Williams, Lake Babine Nation; Andrew Bak, Tsawwassen First Nation; Gerry Lawson, MOA; Ryan Dennis, Tahltan Central Council; Bobbie Hembree, Tsleil-Waututh Nation; Alissa Cherry, UBCIC; Judy Thompson, Tahltan Central Council; Pauline Hawkins, Tahltan Central Council; Ann Stevenson, MOA; Aaron Leon, Splatsin Tsm7aksaltn Teaching Centre Society UBC Irving K Barber Learning Centre, Photo by

UBC partners work with BC First Nations to enable digitization of valuable recordings

The prospect of First Nations in this province preserving and revitalizing their languages and cultures, including teaching their histories, and in some cases pressing their land claims, is being aided by a unique pilot program led by UBC Library’s Irving K. Barber Learning Centre and the Museum of Anthropology.

This past April, four First Nations and a provincial First Nations organization were awarded a grant from the Aboriginal Audio Digitization and Preservation Program to assist them in digitizing tape recordings at risk of loss due to age and technological change.

In many cases, the tapes contain valuable recordings of elders speaking their native language and sharing traditional and cultural knowledge.

The five projects (see below) each received $10,000 in matching funds to support training and acquiring special equipment for the work.

Participants from each project received hands-on instruction at the Museum of Anthropology’s Oral History Language Lab, from May 12–16.

aadpp_projects“The program is an exciting component of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre’s Indigitization Program, which enables us to work closely with UBC stakeholders and First Nations partners to build skills and capacity in Aboriginal communities around access and preservation of culturally significant materials,” said Simon Neame, Associate University Librarian and Director of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre.

‘No better way’

Roger Patrick, a treaty researcher with the Lake Babine Nation in central B.C., attended the training session along with two of his colleagues.

In an interview, he said his office has 1300 tapes stored at the University of Northern British Columbia’s archives.

He described how there is strong community interest in the digitization project, particularly among the youth who are interested in knowing more about their language and culture.

“They are really excited about the information we have,” he said. “(The recordings) are all done in our (Carrier) language—this is what they’re craving for. But firstly we have to digitize them.”

He acknowledged that securing a fluent Carrier speaker to translate the Nation’s recordings is however going be a challenge. Until then, he expects much of the information on them to remain inaccessible to the Nation’s mainly non-Carrier speaking youth, who make up thirty percent of its members.

Furthermore, he worries the language is going to suffer significantly when many of its speakers are gone in 20 years, such that he foresees his nephew who is now in his 40s being the last fluent speaker by then.

Given this, he said there is a desire to see the language preserved and that “there’s no better way than through the digitization project.”

He is also looking for the digitization project to provide answers to questions posed in the treaty process as well as curriculum material for the Nation’s elementary school.

Upon returning home, his team will be sharing with the Nation’s youth the skills gained at MOA in order to help them with their own digitization projects.

Building capacity

Judy Thompson, a language and culture worker with the Tahltan Nation, in northwest B.C., also attended the training session with two co-workers.

In an interview, she said they plan to digitize about 330 audiotapes and that in time more will likely come forward from various family collections.

The tapes include recordings of Na-Dene elders and others who have since passed away, but who were “very knowledgeable about our clan system, songs, dances, plants – lots of different cultural knowledge,” she said.

For example, she told how she has recordings of her grandfather and aunt who lived to be 102 and 101-years old respectively.

Like others, the Tahltan Nation is experiencing the loss of fluent Na-Dene speakers as time passes. As a result, the Nation is focused on revitalizing the language. In that regard, she said the digitization project will contribute to an online Na-Dene dictionary, in addition to school curriculum.

When asked if there were other means to digitize the tapes, apart from the program, she replied that in the past the Nation sent them out of the community, but this was not preferable.

In a subsequent interview, she confirmed that the Nation would rather hold onto its tapes during the digitization process, since they often contain sensitive cultural and personal information. Moreover, she said the Nation wants to develop the ability to do the work itself. Plus she thought families would hesitate to send their personal tapes out of the community.

For these reasons, she reiterated her appreciation for the program’s capacity development approach, which will let the Nation control the digitization process while developing its capability in this area.

The remaining three projects involving the Splatsin First Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation and Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs will see thousands of hours of audiotapes being digitized.

‘Tens of thousands’ of tapes

Gerry Lawson, a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation, is MOA’s Oral History Language Lab coordinator and digitization trainer.

In an interview, he recounted how before joining the lab he realized that First Nations in the province, including his own, needed to begin the process of digitizing their at-risk audiotape collections.

As it was, he recalled how his own Nation had “a room full of media on many different obsolete formats—recordings of stories, songs and traditional knowledge in our language that was at risk of becoming inaccessible due to age and equipment obsolescence.”

He estimated that B.C. First Nations have “tens of thousands” of tapes that require digitization.

Regarding the potential value of these recordings, he remarked that there are some in existence from the 1960s and 1970s­ of elders who intimately understood the first impacts of settlement or industrial development, including life prior to then.

“In terms of their knowledge as children and who they would’ve been exposed to, in this case their elders, you’re talking about really close to contact,” he said. “You’re talking about really authentic information.”

Furthermore, because many spoke a higher or more complex form of their language than what is commonly spoken today, this should significantly benefit language revitalization efforts, he said.

However, he noted there is an urgent need to connect digitization efforts to language and cultural revitalization work underway.

“The fewer fluent speakers that exist the harder it will be to interpret the recordings in support of those programs that seek to teach the language,” he said.

He explained that MOA’s training lab, which he helped to design, has been specifically “geared toward capacity development and addressing the greater landscape of cultural heritage recordings.”

Further aiding the digitization movement among First Nations is a community of practice that is emerging among former and current program participants who are willing to help each other out.

“We’re hoping this spreads,” he said, adding he’d like to see technicians unaffiliated with the program join in anyway in order to get help with their own digitization projects.

Last year, the program awarded inaugural grants to the Tsawwassen First Nation and Upper St’át’imc Language, Culture, and Education Society.

The program, which is supported through yearly funding, will issue its next call for proposals in July 2014.

For more information on the program, visit: www.indigitization.ca.