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Local Indigenous archives and language revitalization underway at KFPL

A display of Indigenous language learning books from Kingston Frontenac Public Library at the Language Nest. Photo by Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.

An initiative to create and digitize an archive of local Indigenous history is in full steam at the Kingston Frontenac Public Library (KFPL).

Danycka Pereault, an Indigenous woman from the Kingston area, has recently joined the team responsible for the work, thanks to a grant from Young Canada Works going towards the StoryMe project.

She joins Programming and Outreach Librarian Jake Miller and Librarian of Local History and Genealogy Joanne Stanbridge at KFPL until December, and in her first few weeks of work, she has jumped in headfirst.

Pereault said, to little surprise, that Indigenous history in the area is not well documented. “Kingston, although it is a city that is steeped in its own history, has little to no awareness of any Indigenous history of this area,” she said. “There isn’t a stabilized community since the Native Friendship Center closed down, and there just isn’t a lot of awareness of the urban Indigenous presence.”

In Kingston alone there are over 10,000 Indigenous-identifying community members, but it is currently difficult for them or anyone interested in learning about the local history to access resources. Pereault and KFPL’s work to help address that is focused in large part on updating vertical files. 

Three categories were identified to be filled out as much as possible: articles on the Kingston Indigenous Language Nest, articles on Four Directions at Queen’s University, and the now-closed Katarokwi Friendship Center. The team is pouring over their newspaper database and pulling anything that mentions those groups. 

Pereault has realized there wasn’t much in terms of articles or information related to those groups in particular and has pushed to expand the focus to things that she feels are important to the Indigenous history of the area, helping to create a wider scope of Indigenous local history. 

One of the next stages of the process will include reaching out to local Indigenous elders, community members, and knowledge holders in order to include their perspective and knowledge about the area and history.

Although there is a shortage of documented Indigenous history in general, Indigenous produced works are in even shorter supply. 

Pereault said that, in spite of that, she has been able to dig up newsletters called ‘Tightwire’ written by former residents of the Kingston Women’s Prison, and is excited to continue examining and archiving those.

“It’s been heartbreaking, but so gorgeous as well, because there’s poetry and artwork and letters and some of the articles that are written in it, it’s interesting to me how similar prisoner written articles are to academic style articles,” Pereault said of the newsletters.

She added that although those letters may not provide the widest scope in terms of Indigenous history, they are still incredibly relevant. “I don’t think you can talk about Kingston’s history without talking about how it is a hub for these carceral institutions, and you can’t really talk about carceral institutions without the indigenization of prisons,” said Pereault.

Programming and Outreach Librarian Jake Miller said that Pereault’s lived experience and background adds a lot of collaboration, relevance and “oomph” to the program. “Prior to this, I didn’t often work directly with our history and genealogy specialist, but now she provides a link to allow the organization to collaborate from within and be sort of a cultural ambassador to Indigenous communities,” he said.

Alongside this work, KFPL is actively working both independently and alongside the Kingston Indigenous Languages Nest (KILN) to prioritize Indigenous language revitalization.

KILN meets weekly and, along with helping to select Indigenous collections at the library, has included KFPL in sessions to showcase some of the available books and sign families up for library cards. 

Maureen Buchanan of KILN said there is no substitute for learning on the land, but the addition of resources can only be a good thing.

Pereault agreed that although the resources at KFPL are valuable, the most important factor in language revitalization is community. 

“That’s the way our languages were meant to be learned and spoken. As lovely as all these resources are to have, they’re meant to be learned walking on the land and with your brothers and sisters and community,” she said.

Pereault’s hope for the archival of Indigenous history and expansion of Indigenous works is not only to see the Indigenous community making use of the resources, but for settlers to educate themselves and play a role in reconciliation and language revitalization.  She said that what the Indigenous community needs most to heal and thrive is sustained interest.

“I think what I find most frustrating about settler engagement with decolonization, language revitalization and Indigenous culture is it’s so periodic and it’s focused on Indigenous past and Indigenous pain,” she said.

“More than our past and more than our pain, I would like to see a sustained interest in our present and our vibrance and our brilliance.”

The archive will be posted digitally here.

This article was written by Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.

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