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Jacinda Brisson Reflects on Time With the Whyte Museum Archives

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

By Jacinda Brisson, Archives Indigenous Research Intern

Young Canada Works at Building Careers in Heritage (Career Focus)



As I finish up my time at the Whyte, I've reminisced on some of the memories I’ve made here and share what I’ve learned. I’ve been the Young Canada Works Archives Indigenous Research Intern at the Whyte Museum for the past year. My work here has consisted mainly of working with the Indigenous items in our collections as well as working with Indigenous community members and Elders to add their knowledge and perspectives to archival materials held at the Whyte Museum. Now back in my home territory in Northwestern Ontario, I think about the experiences that have stood out most to me.

Colleen Crawler (Recognizing Relations Project Facilitator) and Jacinda Brisson (Young Canada Works Archives Indigenous Research Intern)
Image 1

What I found interesting about working in the archives are the things you learn. Whenever someone works on a collection, by the end they’re basically an expert on it. It’s why the archives department works so great as a team, everyone has worked on different collections, focusing on different topics or people so when you put us all together, there becomes a wealth of knowledge from all different angles. For me, I may not be able to look at a photo and recognize every big mountaineer, but if it came to the Stoney Nakoda Chiefs in our collections, I’d probably be able to name more than a few. I know that if I go to someone else in the archives that has worked on a collection like the Alpine Club of Canada, they’d most likely be able to help me with that task, and vice versa. It has been amazing to participate in this kind of reciprocal working environment where we can all add our input from different perspectives and knowledge sets to learn from each other. It has made me glad that I have been able to be a part of this team.


I am grateful for how much this internship also has allowed me to work with my interests. Before this position I hadn’t had much experience working in the archives and working with archival practices, my interests have been more geared towards working in collaboration with Indigenous communities. The archives team was able to work alongside my interests to really get me the best of both worlds. I was able to learn the fundamentals of working in the archives, terminology, organization, digitization, and operating the database. While I was working on these skills I was also learning about Stoney Nakoda people and history through the materials I was inputting or digitizing, Stoney Nakoda namely because it is the nation with the largest presence within the Whyte Museum’s Archives and Special Collections. I read news articles and letters, saw photographs from the past, and listened to songs and stories. I became connected with the faces and stories of notable people in the community, George McLean/Walking Buffalo, Hector Crawler, Peter Wesley, David Bearspaw, John Hunter, and numerous others. But as I was learning this, it’s important to note this was also just one side of the story. All of these materials were in our collections most often because a white settler donated these materials that they had documented. Even though I was learning all this history, it was mainly only from one perspective, so I was missing out on a lot of information and connections that were vital to understanding the full picture. This is why it was so important to connect with the community and hear the stories they wanted to share and the history from their perspective.

Throughout the year I participated in several Elders meetings through the Recognizing Relations project. This is where I was able to hear the history important to the Elders and the history significant to pass down to the next generations. I’m thankful to these Elders and everyone else I worked with for being kind and accepting of me as an outsider and working with me throughout this project. The things I’ve learned from the people I met and worked with will stay with me as continue into my next path in life.

Spectators at Banff Indian Days. 1945-1950. Peter and Catharine Whyte fonds. V683 / III / B / NS – 1706. Archives and Special Collections, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.
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A large portion of the Indigenous photographs in our collections are from Banff Indian Days and many of the Elders talked about those times with fond memories, a way to connect and gather around aspects of their culture during a time when it wasn’t necessarily allowed or accepted. One of my favourite experiences was helping coordinate an event we hosted in July of 2022. We met with some of the Elders that had participated in the last phase of the Recognizing Relations project at the Banff Indian Days grounds. We had a tipi set up and gathered inside after a meal where the Elders shared stories about Banff Indian Days and their memories.


David Bearspaw’s family was kindly able to set up their tipi at the event. It was great to see them come out and do this as we have many photos of the late David Bearspaw’s tipi going up at Banff Indian Days in the 1950s. At the event, David shared with me his goals to continue their tradition by travelling to events like this and raising their family tipi. It made me happy to hear that they were able to continue this practice, connecting past and future generations through their own traditions and history.

Setting up the Bearspaw tipi. 1950. Peter and Catharine Whyte fonds.	V683 / III / B / NS – 1764. Archives and Special Collections, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.
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David Bearspaw and his family setting up the Bearspaw tipi, July 2022.
Image 4

That day felt good. It felt like a way of reflecting on the past to inspire the future. Even though I won’t be in the area anymore, I look forward to hearing about more community-centred events from the Whyte Museum and surrounding Indigenous communities in the future.


I have been able to learn so much from the people around me. From our team in the archives and other staff members at the Whyte to individuals in the community and traditional stewards of the land. My time in Banff and at the Whyte Museum has been an incredible marker of learning and growth for me. I’m thankful for everyone I met in the process and those who were patient, welcoming, and kind to me. Maybe one day I will be back, but for now, Banff, the people, and the surrounding area will always have a place in my heart.


To learn more about some of Jacinda's work during her time at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, visit the Indigenous Archival Access Guide and Recognizing Relations Project, and read her previous articles:

 

Images:


Image 1: Colleen Crawler (Recognizing Relations Project Facilitator) and Jacinda Brisson (Young Canada Works Archives Indigenous Research Intern).

Image 2: Spectators at Banff Indian Days,1945-1950, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Peter and Catharine Whyte fonds. (V683/III/B/NS–1706).

Image 3: Setting up the Bearspaw tipi,1950, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Peter and Catharine Whyte fonds. (V683/III/B/NS–1764).

Image 4: David Bearspaw and his family setting up the Bearspaw tipi, July 2022.

 




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