This Week in History: the remarkable Indigenous Audio/Visual Collection

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WatchThe Royal BC Museum and BC Archives have a remarkable indigenous audio-visual collection dating back to the 1850's - documenting First Peoples’ way of life. And the museum is working hard with First Nations across the province - to reconnect these pieces with families and communities.

The Royal BC Museum and BC Archives Indigenous audio/visual collection contains photographs, film, video, and audio recordings.

Brooke Albers is the Audiovisual Collections Manager. “Since the 1970’s, when these photos were placed on index cards in these drawers, people have been welcome to write information on the back of each photo card. And so it’s almost like a living photo album, where you can come up, and you can turn the cards over and see what people have written over the years. A lot of the visitors we have to the collections are doing research on their family histories, and their culture, and their communities.”

Dating from the 1860’s until the 1950’s, there are about 25,000 historical photographs in the BC Archives alone.

“The Royal BC Museum and the BC Archives were separate for over 100 years,” says Albers, “and we amalgamated in 2003.  So you can imagine that a lot of the collections that came to the individual organizations were accessioned differently, they were put into different database systems…  There’s a lot of logistical differences between the collections, and so they do remain separate today.”

In fact, the hundreds of First Nation photographs that you can access online are courtesy of the Royal BC Museum, not the BC Archives.

“There are some duplicates between the Indigenous collections and the BC Archives, but there’s a lot that are different as well, and ours are not online yet, so we’re working on that.  We’re in the process of scanning the prints of each of these photographs so in the future, it will be possible for people living way up north to be able to access their photos on-line.”

There are also about 3,500 audio recordings in the collection.

“There was a linguistics department here during the 1970’s and 80’s” Albers explains.  “It lasted about a decade, and that department undertook a large scale project where they contracted linguistics to go throughout BC, and beyond, where territories crossed borders, and take language recordings.

“This is the International Year of Indigenous Language, and we’ve been doing a lot of community outreach this year.  As of January this year, we’ve sent out about 460 digital copies of recordings.”

And that number continues to grow, as the BC Archives works with families and communities to share this remarkable, historic collection.

“This is a very exciting time, because not only are we working to reach out and create more awareness about what is actually here, so that people know that they can access these recordings and these photographs, but we’re also focusing on co-management of materials.  A very important aspect of repatriation as a whole is co-management, and communicating regularly with people whose intangible heritage this is.  The people who own these materials.”

Veronica CooperVeronica Cooper

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