There is Power in Recordings

About a year and a half ago, we completed the research for the land management project in Membertou. At that time, we began discussions with the Elders to have the interviews that had been conducted as part of the research project deposited in a local archive. The goal was not just to preserve them for the future, but to make them accessible to community members for their own purposes and to students and researchers for educational purposes. I'm happy to finally report that on Friday, March 6th, I had the honour of delivering the digital and paper documents from the project, along with a signed Deed of Gift, to the Beaton Institute.

I'm not entirely certain how I became the lead on the archiving component of this project, but it was indeed my idea that the records from the project should be kept and archived with the consent of the participants. I saw incredible value in them beyond the life of the land management project, which produced an important document for the community. When I was the project coordinator at the Research Centre for Music, Media, and Place, I had the opportunity to produce a CD of Mi'kmaw music. Welta'q "It Sounds Good": Historic Recordings of the Mi'kmaq featured 24 tracks from archives and private research collections across Canada. One of those recordings came from the Folklore and Language Archive at Memorial University. It had been recorded in Conne River and on the night of the CD release a member of the community told me, tears in his eyes, that he had never heard his grandfather's voice until that track from the CD was played that night. There is power in recordings. And that moment is the reason why I always encourage researchers to think of the future before destroying what we too often reduce to "data." That moment is the reason I asked our research partners at NNI to reconsider long-term storage of the interviews in Cape Breton (again, provided the participants agreed to it) and to rewrite their consent forms for the project. I am grateful that they were so willing.

Our conversations regarding the archiving of the materials began at a meeting of the 55+ Club in Membertou in October of 2013. We talked about whether and why the materials should be archived, where they should be archived, who should be permitted to access them, what safeguards were in place to prevent unauthorized copies being made, whether Membertou should establish its own archive, how permission should be obtained for future publication of the materials, and many other topics. Members of the 55+ Club then decided that the Elders Advisory Committee of the Membertou Heritage Park (MHP) should take the lead in discussions and decision-making. Over the next year, we met several times at the MHP to discuss how best to conserve and safeguard Mi'kmaw cultural property while also ensuring it was accessible for education. In September, we invited the Elders to tour the Beaton Institute and the Mi'kmaq Resource Centre and passed an enjoyable afternoon behind the scenes, learning about storage methods and the types of Mi'kmaw resources already available. Shortly thereafter, with the assistance of Trevor Bernard, Executive Director at Membertou First Nation, the Elders finalized and approved the access restrictions they felt would be appropriate for the materials being deposited in the archive. In January 2015, the Deed of Gift was prepared and signed.

The land management interviews, transcriptions, and final report are now at the Beaton Institute where they will be accessioned. The documents will then be made available to CBU students and researchers, as well as the Membertou community and general public, through the Mi'kmaq Resource Centre. We hope that these materials will be valuable resources in the future. And maybe one day, a Membertou community member will have the joy of listening to a family member for the first time.