Wednesday, February 03, 2021

History of Indigenous genealogy

This Globe story about Indigenous people researching their family trees, makes one think that the abominable levels of surveillance and control that our government has mantained for 150 years over the lives of Indigenous peoples has one curious upside -- in the archives.Indigenous people and librarians have been working together to mine the highly detailed (not to say invasive) Indigenous personal records Indian Affairs collected and filed at LAC  -- in order to provide ancestry and family tree information to people long separated from their families and roots.

The Connections to Kith and Kin program [at Vancouver Public Library -- not a national program!] pairs skilled archivists with community members to help comb the often-overlooked mountain of Indigenous records maintained by Library and Archives Canada. These records are often more extensive and invasive than those kept on non-Indigenous Canadians, but the documents offer Mr. Delorme and others an opportunity to collect the broken links of their lineage and piece them back together.

Bureaucrats diligently documented births, deaths, baptisms, trap-line permits and even grocery bills of Indigenous people around the country. The LAC collection is vast, comprising, according to brochures, “250 linear kilometres of government and private textual records,” along with thousands of hours of audio recordings, millions of books and five billion megabytes of digital files.

I've dabbled enough in genealogical records, of my own family and others, to know something of the power of recovering this kind of intensely personal information from cold official files -- and I come from people fairly well informed about their family trees to begin with.   


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