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Course explores adapting archives to work with Aboriginal knowledge
An upcoming 13-hour course at the University of Alberta has students, researchers, and members of the general public excited. Archival Science and Aboriginal Identity, a course in library studies, will examine the relationship between the body of knowledge that is known as archival studies and the preservation of the memory of Aboriginal peoples’ cultural and social identity.
The three-day course looks at how archives work and operate, and how Aboriginal identity has emerged from narratives of the Canadian colonial and post-colonial settlement process, said instructor and associate archivist Raymond Frogner. Frogner also holds master’s degrees in social history and archival studies.
“It’s a course that’s included in a library program which originated in Europe and is based on text. That’s problematic when considered in an Aboriginal context, as the histories are kept in oral tradition,” he said. “It’s a whole different paradigm, when it’s from memory.”
Frogner noted that traditionally decisions were made in everyday situations that involved most members of the community whereas the European tradition was based on elected officials working from common law and statutes, making it a whole different model.
“In the end, what happens with Aboriginal people’s records is that they are gleaned from treaties, the Indian Act, and other documents that show how the band can function. What comes to the archives is a set of texts that is based on these principles, and we talk about that in the first part of the course,” explained Frogner.
The second part of the course looks at Aboriginal rights that still exist, such as the treaties in British Columbia and the Constitution Act of 1982, which recognized existing rights.
“But even where there are treaties, there are specific Aboriginal rights that haven’t been addressed,” said Frogner.
There will also be discussion of current day court procedures that show oral testimony can be used in a court of law as evidence.
“We will also discuss the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other documents that are in need of safeguarding for future use. Elders have been videotaped telling the oral traditions, but the testimonies are considered sacred and that brings up the question of access and making a copy, so we talk about how we can adapt our archival practices to accommodate this,” said Frogner.
Val Napoleon, a professor in law and Native Studies, is confirmed as one of two guest speakers.
The course takes place March 25-27, beginning Friday evening then continuing through the day on Saturday and Sunday. Students will prepare a 10-page paper, and will complete a short quiz as well as participate in class discussions for evaluation.
“We expect members of bands to attend, as well as information specialists such as librarians, archivists, managers of institutions, and Native Studies students,” said Frogner. “It will be invaluable to all and we welcome those who want to learn more about Canadian Aboriginal jurisprudence and how to research the principal archival resources of Aboriginal history.”
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