History as Shared by the Survivors

Note: This blog post was written as an assignment for ARST 573: Archival Systems and the Profession, a required course for my Masters in Archival Studies at UBC. We were assigned one of our course readings and asked to summarize the article and pose questions based on it for our classmates to discuss. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on these questions too!

In her article “Community Archival Practice: Indigenous Grassroots Collaboration at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre”, Krista McCracken contextualizes, describes, and evaluates the work of the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC), established in 1979 at Algoma University College in Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario. In line with Mathiesen (2012) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2008), McCracken emphasizes the importance of Indigenous communities having access to and control over records related to their history and identity in order to heal from traumas inflicted by colonialism.

The SRSC is introduced as an example of a community-based archive that exemplifies the healing process and positive outcomes that can emerge through collaboration between an archival institution and Indigenous communities. McCracken argues that the SRSC’s Remember the Children: National Residential School Photo Identification Project has met its aims (“to connect survivors with photographs of themselves and to gather information about the individuals portrayed in the photographs” (p. 186)) because of the crucial role that residential school survivors have played in developing and promoting it. Learning from this experience, McCracken’s conclusion is that this project can serve as an example to other archival institutions and Indigenous communities as they strive to build collaborative, ethical, and inclusive archives together.

Both McCracken (2015) and Mathiesen (2012) emphasize that when working in an archival setting with materials related to or created by Indigenous peoples, collaboration with Indigenous communities is critical. In the case study McCracken presents, we learn that relationship building was a priority and practice at the SRSC long before archival professionalism permeated the organization. As such, I would be interested to hear your reflections on the following questions:

  • How might the SRSC’s specific history in this regard have contributed to the its collaborative approach?
  • How might organizations that had a strong professional archival approach before considering relationship building and collaboration a priority face different challenges than the SRSC?
  • What could they learn and apply from the SRSC’s work to overcome these challenges?


Mathiesen, Kay. 2012. “A Defense of Native Americans’ Rights over Their Traditional Cultural Expressions.” The American Archivist 75 (2): 456–81.

McCracken, Krista. 2015. “Community Archival Practice: Indigenous Grassroots Collaboration at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.” The American Archivist 78 (1): 181–91. doi:10.17723/0360-9081.78.1.181.

United Nations. 2008. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf.

The featured image for this post is a black and white photograph of male students from Fort Albany Residential School in class overseen by a nun c. 1945. It is from the Edmund Metatawabin collection at the University of Algoma. This is a public domain work available on Wikimedia Commons.


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