“Protecting the Ways”: The creation of Indigenous community archives in Northern Québec and the building of community identities

Raegan Swanson


My doctoral research focuses on the creation community archives in First Nation and Inuit communities in the province of Québec, and how their creation helps to construct a community narrative, history and identity.

This research will explore, using surveys and oral history, the connection between the Indigenous political movements and the creation of cultural archival repositories in Quebec and how the communities are choosing to build community identities, using archives as a tools for historical narrative. Few Indigenous archives exist in Canada and none have been formally studied.

The creation of these archives highlights interesting questions: Why are communities choosing to create traditional western archives in their communities? What was the catalyst for their creation? How do they incorporate or use traditional archival policies and procedures? What non-traditional archival practices are in place? What is the impact of these archives in the community? Are the archives independent, or do they associate with larger academic institutions or governments? Is research being conducted in the archives and if so who is working with the collections?

Anderson (2006) discusses the importance of community identity and its importance to keep groups together in a common belief. Without immediate or easy access to archival material collected by the colonizer (Bastian, 2006) the need for community driven history is paramount for Aboriginal identity. With the social barriers built between families with the forced education of Aboriginal and Inuit children in residential schools, some communities are forced to create such programs to reestablish links within the community. Communities collect material that represents who they see themselves to be (Kaplan, 2000) and the examination of archival collections allows outsiders to better understand community identity.

The proposed research will be carried out in two different communities in the province of Québec: Avataq Cultural Institute, and Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute.


Raegan Swanson is the Executive Director of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives in Toronto, Ontario.

Prior to this, Raegan was the Archival Advisor for the Council of Archives New Brunswick (Fredericton, New Brunswick), Head Archivist with the Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute (Oujé-Bougoumou, Québec) and Digital Archivist with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (Winnipeg, Manitoba). As a student, Raegan worked at Library and Archives Canada (Gatineau, Québec) and volunteered at Le Centre du patrimoine: Société historique de Saint-Boniface (Winnipeg, Manitoba).

Raegan has an BA (Honours) in History from Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface (2009) and a Masters of Information from the University of Toronto (2011). She is currently working on her Ph.D. at the University of Dundee (Scotland) where she is doing research on First Nation and Inuit archives in Québec.