New archive featuring interviews with Mi'kmaw elders launches online, aims to expand
Archive is available to the public on the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre’s website
Pam Glode-Desrochers says hearing the voice of a deceased Mi'kmaw elder on tape is indescribable — and incredibly necessary.
"These are opportunities for young people in our communities to actually sit and listen and to learn from people who are no longer here," the executive director of the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre in Halifax told CBC Radio's Mainstreet earlier this month.
"Each time I listen, I learn something and it moves me to the core because these could have been easily lost if this kind of project didn't happen."
That project is a new online archive that holds hours and hours of audio and video featuring Mi'kmaw elders relating memories and history, participating in cultural activities and sharing their knowledge about language, residential schools and politics, among other topics.
The archive has been years in the making.
"I do believe that these archives are a start of something wonderful, something beautiful," Glode-Desrochers said.
In 2018, Glode-Desrochers teamed up with Trudy Sable, the director of Aboriginal and northern research at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, to establish an archive based on Sable's personal collection.
Sable collected hours of interviews with Mi'kmaw elders and individuals after she was hired by Parks Canada in the 1990s to study history and culture within First Nations communities in Atlantic Canada.
The archive became a reality in 2019, after the centre received a grant from the Canadian Heritage Aboriginal Language Initiatives Program.
Sable said there's about 50 hours of interviews with a range of topics already uploaded to the site. Topics include Mi'kmaw language, politics, sports, ceremonies and residential schools.
One interview features the late Chief John Basque of Chapel Island, now known as Potlotek First Nation.
Sable interviewed Basque at his home in 1992. He talked about how a representative from the federal government was trying to centralize the Mi'kmaq into two big reserves in Nova Scotia.
Basque talked about how the Mi'kmaq had been promised houses but instead, they were living in tents for years.
"It's always something when you sit back and you look at the history of our communities and the realization that time and time again, there's always these promises and they're broken promises each and every time," Glode-Desrochers said.
"That actually leads into why I personally felt that these archives were so important for us to work with Trudy on — to bring them to light, to have Indigenous and non-Indigenous people actually experience them."
Giving back to the community
Glode-Desrochers said the purpose of the archive is to give the "knowledge back to the communities."
Before the archive could be posted online, Sable said it was important that the individuals who were interviewed or their families consented to having their stories published.
She said the majority of the people consented, including Basque's family.
Sable said their reaction to hearing Basque's voice in the archive was "heartbreaking" and "beautiful." Some had never even heard his voice before.
"People have told me they've cried just hearing the strength of their grandparents and great-grandparents … and it's a funny thing to say, but [also] their lack of anger," Sable said.
"It's not like they didn't see this injustice. They just kept dealing with it and kept going and making sure things continued, despite all the broken promises."
The archive launched on the centre's website earlier this year and is available to the public.
Sable said she still has about 30 interviews of her own collection to transcribe, translate and upload to the archive. The centre is also aiming to establish a publicly donated collection.
Sable said she's hopeful the growing archive will encourage all people — including those who aren't Indigenous — to learn more about Mi'kmaw culture and the people behind it, especially as Canada marks its first official National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
She said there's still a lot of work to be done but this archive is a good place to start.
"I'm hoping that non-Indigenous people pay just as much attention to these archives as my own community, and maybe they can learn something," Glode-Desrochers said.
"Maybe they can take something away and recognize that we are all in this together. We are all treaty people."