ARCHIVE MATTERS: To Begin

by Angie Bain, Lower Nicola Indian Band 

My latest archival journey began with a simple question:  Can I get a colour version of the maps?  I did not anticipate where this question would lead.  I hope in sharing some of my story on this blog you will see the basis of the message and intent of future posts.  This blog is called Archive Matters but I could just as easily called it Archives Matter.  In very real ways archival repositories hold in trust documents and materials that are needed by the research community.  As a researcher for a First Nations non-profit, and as a member of the a First Nations community, I have had the privilege to see every day why archival documents are important to our work.  I think my story shows this best. 

On a trip to the British Columbia Archives I reviewed a reel of microfilm from Series MS-1425 – Franz Boas papers relating to American Indian linguistics (http://search.bcarchives.gov.bc.ca/franz-boas-papers-relating-to-american-indian-linguistics).  On this reel I found “Notes to the maps of the Pacific Northwest” by James Alexander Teit.  I thought the notes and maps would be useful to my work so I made copies of both.

I was perfectly content with my copies until I started working with the documents.  Annotated and full of marginalia, the maps, stripped of colour (they had been annotated and coloured with pencil crayons by Teit), were confusing at best.  As any community researcher knows, every single line on a map matters.  Decisions are made every day based on maps and interpretations of those maps.  Maps can be wonderful things.  Taken out of context, maps can be very dangerous things.  In this instance, my community was particularly interested in understanding the background to a published map that was being used to assess the strength of our claim to part of our asserted traditional territory.  These maps, hastily copied from a reel of microfilm, mattered.  To better read and understand the maps I thought, Can I get a colour version of the maps?

I checked the BC Archives catalogue to see if they hold the original documents.  Unfortunately, they do not.  Looking further, I found that the originals are held by the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.  Knowing very little about the APS, it is not a place I would have ever checked for documents about my community.  Not only is it on the other side of the continent, but it is also located in another country with no obvious connection to my community.  Before contacting the APS I thought I would see if others had already tracked down the colour maps.

Reaching out to my network of colleagues I found that I wasn’t alone in my quest for good copies of the maps.  Other communities within my Nation were on their own journey to understand these maps.  Pooling our efforts, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs worked with the Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council and we approached the Library of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia where the original copies of the maps are located.  It took a bit of time and money, but eventually we successfully obtained colour versions of the maps (See for example http://diglib.amphilsoc.org/islandora/object/graphics:6285). 

The colour version of the maps helped our research progress.  Finally, we were able to see a legible representation of James Teit’s understanding of our territorial boundaries.  But the maps, and associated notes on the same file were not enough.  I thought, If the APS has such wonderful maps, what else do they have that might give context to Teit’s work?  It was this question that put me on a path that I still travel today. 

Browsing the APS catalogue I discovered that they hold the original Franz Boas Papers (Mss.B.B61 http://www.amphilsoc.org/collections/view?docId=ead/Mss.B.B61-ead.xml).  I reviewed microfilm copies of some of this collection in the past but never in any detail, nor had I ever seen the originals.  Coincidently a colleague heard about a large project to digitize and produce a documentary edition of the Franz Boas Papers (http://www.franzboaspapers.uwo.ca/).  We were invited to a meeting with project partners from the University of Western Ontario, the University of Victoria and their community partners from the Musgamagw Dzawda’enuxw Tribal Council.  At this meeting we met others interested in better understanding the work of James Teit with First Nations communities.

Rather than describing the journey since then, I will share the highlights.  Working with the Indigenous Advisory Council of the Franz Boas Papers team, I had the good fortune to work with a group of community scholars and researchers.  I found a group as interested, and concerned with understanding the work of James Teit as myself.  Working together, we have discovered more maps, letters, notes, photographs and links to other archival collections that have allowed us to put Teit’s work in context.  I have visited archives, small and large, across Canada and North America finding more records created by Teit and written about my community.  Using these records I have found his unpublished notes where he discusses how he came to understand, and later in his career revise his understanding of, our tribal boundaries. 

The best part of this story, the most important part, is that copies of these documents are now in the capable hands of my community.  My community has incorporated much of the material into ongoing work, including traditional use study research, a draft cultural heritage policy, place name projects, genealogy work and mapping projects.  My community now has the tools that they need to put Teit’s maps and work into context. 

This for me is the best example that I can share of why archives matter.  This highly personal introduction to the blog Archive Matters is just one example of why archives matter to our communities.  Most research starts with a simple question, but as we learn more about archival collections and the communities and people that make use of them, our research can take us on unexpected journeys with unexpected results.  Just as I would have never thought to look for maps important to my community at an archives like the APS, each question that other communities ask may bring them far from home.  To begin our journey together with this blog Archive Matters I have shared my story.  My goal moving forward with this blog is simple.  With the help of other researchers, archivists, community knowledge holders and interested parties I want to help other communities find documents that will make a difference to their own work.  Let us see where this journey takes us next. 

 

Comments

Really enjoyed reading this inaugural blog and I look forward to reading your next posts. I've taken the liberty of referencing your blog on the Friends of the British Columbia Archives [FBCA] Facebook page. 'Hope this is OK with you. Archive Matters and Archives Matter with us!

Thanks for sharing the link and for taking the time to comment. I plan on monthly posts and will be collaborating with others as often as possible.

Terrific article Angie. Thanks for your insights into how "archives matter".

Thanks Ann. The research community is lucky to have archivists like you to help us along the way. Check back next month for our next post.

i am very interested

Thanks Lorraine

What a great way to start off what I'm sure is going to be a really interesting blog! I'm looking forward to reading more. Keep up the great work, Angie!

Thanks Brian. I'm sure that I will revisit the exciting material at the APS in a future blog. Your Native American collections are outstanding and the work that you are doing through the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research is making it possible for communities like my own to rediscover records such as the Teit materials.

Fantastic start for your blog. Very interesting insight into James Teit.

Thanks Orla. The the Franz Boas Papers project with Western University, I am fortunate to be part of a small team working on a documentary volume highlighting the correspondence between James Teit and Franz Boas. While focusing on the correspondence in the APS collection, we also look at materials we are reviewing in the American Museum of Natural History, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the BC Archives, the Nicola Valley Museum and Archives and the Chicago Field Museum. Perhaps more in a future post.

Your article was in my FB page today. I really enjoyed what you have written so far. I wish you well as you continue to research. When I was in grade five, way back in the fifties, I remember being so excited to have pencil crayons and to copy maps and then colour them. I am a visual learner so you can understand why I loved this task.

Thanks Marnie. I loved them too. Visually, colour makes things more interesting. For the maps, the colour helped me to see the detail a bit better. The notes that went with them, and the associated correspondence and materials that we found were also a tremendous help. I can picture Teit taking the time to carefully colour the maps. An interesting side note, we found variations of his maps at other repositories and each was had coloured. He must have spent a fair bit of time on these.

Thank you so much for your thoughtful and inspiring blog post. There are so many valuable documents at the American Philosophical Society that can help with language and cultural revitalization. I hope other Indigenous communities will get in touch with Brian Carpenter at bcarpenter@amphilsoc.org to see if there are materials that can help other communities. Keep up the excellent work Angie!!

Thanks Tim. Tim and Brian and the APS were a door to so many great documents for us, with many more to come. I encourage communities to get in touch with them and begin your own research journey. In addition to Teit, the APS is a great resource for George Hunt material, Edward Sapir, George Dawson, Harlan Smith...the list goes on and on. Each of these people had their own relationships with our communities and from each of them we continue to learn more. While looking at the APS materials, I encourage you to see if anything in the ACLS collection or the digital audio recordings are helpful for your work. We've found interesting things in both collections.

Thank you for the great blog...I am researching Nlaka'pamux Traditional Wellness. I'll check out your links.
Kwukwstemx!

Hi Paula. Well said, knowledge gives our communities the tools that they need to carry on the important work that people such as yourself are doing. Feel free to contact me at the Union of BC Indian Chiefs if you are looking for anything in particular. I have many Nlaka'pamux resource and I am always happy to share what I can.

This is great, Angie. I really look forward to reading more. Thank you for sharing this. And thank you for pursuing the question to the benefit of so many!

Thanks Emily. The work that you do at NNTC has been to the benefit of many and I thank you. You'll be one of the people I will be looking to from the research community for suggestions for future posts.

I am a researcher who works with archives as well. This was an excellent post. Will follow!

Thanks Tony. I'm hoping that other researchers like yourself will share some of their tips and stories via comments. Thanks for following us.

Thanks so much for your blog. Fascinating story, and actually quite helpful to my current project. I look forward to reading more about your work. Thanks for sharing.

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