The Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) has launched a project to sort through its collection of thousands of historical records in the hopes of one day opening its own archive centre.
The nearly year-long effort, which began last month, will see a team of four specially-hired experts — project archivist Carey Isaak, archivist assistant Donna Darbyshire, assistant Kaylin Horassi and librarian Peggy D’Orsay — sort through and organize 1,782 boxes of material collected from CYFN’s old building in 1997.
The boxes are being held in a special vault at the Yukon Archives, where they’ve sat largely untouched since being moved there. Some of the boxes are still wrapped in the original plastic from the move.
“Sometimes you look forward to coming into work because there’s a lot of stuff you want to look at, work on, and then there are other days where it’s like, ‘Oh God, I’ve got to do that again, got to look at those files again,’” Isaak said in an interview Oct. 25 during CYFN’s Elders and Youth Gathering in Whitehorse.
He and Darbyshire were manning a booth at the gathering to raise awareness about their work and to display some of the material they’ve discovered so far. Among the items laid out on their table were dozens of photos from the now-defunct Yukon Indian News newspaper, an original bound copy of the Umbrella Final Agreement and the certificate of incorporation for one of CYFN’s predecessors, the Yukon Native Brotherhood.
Isaak and Darbyshire said they’re still largely sorting and appraising the material in all the boxes.
“You’re finding, some boxes are mixed,” Isaak explained. “Some have, say, minutes from executive meetings from the ‘80s or ‘90s, (files from a) general assembly, housing, education, health and social development, pipeline, land claims … So eventually, what we have to do is go through that box and separate (the files) and then rehouse them all together so that all the housing will be all together, all the education, all the land claims will be together. So that’s a lengthy process.”
Along with documents are extensive collections of photos, videos and audio recordings, Darbyshire said — 7,100 film negatives, 900 videotapes, canisters containing 16-millimetre film the team is nervous to put on a projector because they’re in such a delicate state, and 2,850 audio cassettes with recordings of interview with elders, oral histories and First Nations language projects.
“It’d be nice to have them catalogued so people can listen to them and then get a copy of them,” she said.
“… As the elders die, I think it’s important that we have their words from the past through the audio cassettes and the photos of them … I mean, there’s so much material and reports that people have done over the years, they can learn off that material, so having it accessible, I think, is really important as a learning tool.”
The team is also getting rid of documents with no historical or legal value, such as old payrolls. They’ve identified about 130 boxes so far containing finance records that are no longer needed.
“They don’t really serve a purpose anymore — they should have been shredded a long, long time ago, so we’re now catching up with that,” Isaak said.
The project, which is being funded by a grant via the Documentary Heritage Communities Program run by Library and Archives Canada, is scheduled to run until the end of July 2019.
Until then, Isaak and Derbyshire said that it’s a full-time job for their team, with both of them even putting in hours on Saturdays in a bid to get the collection in order.
“There’s always something new to find,” Isaak said.
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