Using technology to preserve history
- NC Raine | April 13, 2022
The Muskeg Lake Cree Nation (MLCN) wanted to preserve its historical documents for future generations, so it approached Saskatchewan Polytechnic (Sask Polytech) for help and together they created a digitization toolkit for anyone interested in doing the same kind of work.
“When your grandchild says ‘who is my great-grandmother’, you have a place to show them,” said Harry Lafond, who initiated the project. “You might have a picture ... and you begin to tell stories about who their great-grandmother was. That’s the type of simple, down-to-earth stuff that’s so necessary for families to have.”
Lafond was chief of MLCN in the 1990s and since then he has been working to preserve and share his community’s history. He approached Sask Polytech to help create a sustainable plan to compile and digitize their archives.
Initially, the goal was to create a digital archive of their nation’s records, but what emerged was something much bigger, so they decided to share what they learned with others.
“What we were hoping to do is to give people the tools to be able to do this on their own, so it’s more sustainable,” said Chasity Berast, Sask Polytech program head and instructor for Library and Information Technology. “With the toolkit, it gives any community the information they need to create and sustain a digital archive.”
The toolkit contains a variety of practices and standards outlining the best equipment and methods for making something digital. If a community wishes to digitize things like video and audio tapes, photographs, or written documents, the toolkit offers instructions, recommended file types, and manners in which to store the digital files.
“It’s basically archiving 101 – a crash course in what to archive and how,” said Berast.
Berast applied for funding through the College and Community Social Innovation Fund (CCSIF), and for two years, worked with research and archive assistants at MLCN to digitize their historical documents.
The First Nation has compiled an extensive community history located in one place. The digital archive includes soldier settlement documents from 1919, Treaty documents from 1879 to 1920, a list of Chiefs from 1879 to 2000, genealogical documents and more.
“This whole development is such a necessary part of community wellness,” said Lafond. “You can’t have community wellness if people don’t know who they are and where they are from.”
The digital toolkit is now available to anyone through the Sask Polytech website.
Berast said the next step is to make the toolkit more accessible and user friendly, so others can preserve their history for future generations.
“I think this will be important for identity building,” said Berast. “It will allow a community to learn more about their family, about their history, so they can better tell their story.”