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WDM Research Trip to the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan

Just prior to the shutdown caused by COVID-19, WDM staff traveled to Regina to do some research. This blog post was written before the shutdown.

Some staff from the WDM’s Corporate Office recently went on a research trip to the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan (PAS) in Regina to analyze archival material in the hopes that it might supplement the Oral History research already conducted in partnership with Whitecap Dakota First Nation which began in 2018. We thought we might discover more about the history of Pion-Era and the WDM’s historic partnership with Whitecap Dakota First Nation from the WDM and Pion-Era written records and the rich photographic archives at PAS. Conducting oral and archival research are integral first steps in the historical research process.

Learning from the oral historical record from the Elders at Whitecap Dakota First Nation has answered many questions about Whitecap’s long participation with Pion-Era from 1955 to the mid-1970s. Their oral histories have already functioned to recentre the history of their participation within our broader understanding of the history of Pion-Era. We have learned about why they participated that first year in 1955 and how the event became a much-anticipated part of their community’s summer calendar. We have learned about Whitecap members’ motivations for participating in Pion-Era year after year, to help settlers understand their way of life. We look forward to the day we can share these stories in partnership with the First Nation with our visitors. Most of all, we have learned to listen. The Elders have generously spent time with us sharing their history and for that, we thank them.

Examining traditional colonial archival primary sources such as letters and photographs, provides the settler perspective on this history. It helps us learn about what happened through the words of the people organizing Pion-Era in the 1950s and 60s. In this case, we found some excellent historic photographs and slides of Pion-Era events and extensive correspondence about how Indigenous individuals and communities, particularly Whitecap Dakota First Nation, were invited and encouraged to participate in these decades. Some of this archival record simply supplements what the Elders already shared, but other documents and photographs revealed new information. What was overwhelmingly clear, was the central importance of Indigenous participation in Pion-Era, particularly by the mid-1960s; organizers spent a great deal of time and energy on hiring and showcasing Indigenous cultural talent like dancers and handicraft makers.

Oral and archival research is the backbone of the historian’s work. Discovering stories in the archives, whether they come in human or paper form, is thrilling to historians. Listening carefully and respectfully to an Elder, reading over letters that may not have been handled in decades, seeing old photographs for the first time, and piecing together history that has been largely forgotten is an exciting responsibility for historians working in museums.

This research is important in many ways. As we work to renew relationships that had been lost over the years, understanding the history of what came before will help us formulate arguments and new public histories as we proceed. Learning the WDM’s institutional history is also important for understanding our roots and how we got to where we are today. Doing this work in partnership with Whitecap Dakota First Nation embeds the work in community and helps build a more representative narrative of Saskatchewan history in our spaces.

WDM Curator Dr. Elizabeth Scott examining photo slides of Pion-Era in the 1960s at the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan reading room in Regina before the COVID-19 closures.

The research conducted for this project will ultimately culminate in an exhibition at the WDM Saskatoon, highlighting the historical partnership between the WDM and Whitecap Dakota First Nation. To learn more about this project and our partnership with Whitecap Dakota First Nation, follow this link to a previous blog post.

Archival and Oral History research methods are just one part of the research process historians perform. Secondary source research (books and articles written based on findings of archival research) are also important to the research process. Understanding how the new research fits with the existing literature is important to making a contribution to the field of study.

Museum professionals also love to visit other museums to get inspiration and check out other exhibition techniques and themes. On this research trip, we also stopped in at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM) in Regina to visit “We Are All Treaty People,” an exhibit on Treaty Four. Treaties are an important yet often overlooked aspect of Saskatchewan’s history. As the WDM looks ahead, developing more robust treaty interpretation and signage will be important in taking steps towards Reconciliation.

The RSM has a unique artifact on display, a written document by Chief Paskwa known as the Chief Paskwa Pictograph. This item is one of the only known written pieces of evidence of Indigenous understandings of Treaty 4. Chief Paskwa recorded it because he did not trust that Treaty 4 would be honoured by the Crown. He intended for it to be delivered to Queen Victoria in the hopes that she would ensure fair enforcement of the treaty, but it was never delivered to her.

This trip to Regina was a valuable learning experience in many ways. We learned more about the history of our own institution as well as that of our province and country.

We Are All Treaty People, a Treaty 4 exhibit at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Regina. Photo by author.

By: Kaiti Hannah, Curatorial Assistant and Dr. Elizabeth Scott, Curator

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