Archival harm reduction: utilizing public health harm reduction concepts for reconciliatory power shifts in archives
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Canadian archives are both generated from and help to maintain white supremacist and settler- colonial frameworks. The 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action specifically tasked Canadian archival institutions and archivists with working towards reconciliatory archiving. Inequitable archival power relations have contributed to the harms done to Indigenous peoples and communities through the entrenchment of settler-colonialism and participation in extractive colonialism through the processes of archiving, along with the systemic racism that has come along with this. In this thesis I argue that public health harm reduction concepts can be read alongside the Calls to Action and Indigenous scholarship to conceptualize a process for shifting power relationships in archives. This is done through a close reading of selected Indigenous scholarship, including Glen Coulthard, Crystal Fraser, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Zoe Todd, Eve Tuck and archivist Raymond Frogner. Further, an analysis will be done of the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the United Nations Joinet-Orentlicher Principles, the First Nations Principles of Ownership, Control, Access and Possession (OCAP®) and the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials. Lastly, I will examine three archival initiatives: the re-description of the Ida Halpern fonds at the Royal British Columbia Museum, Library and Archives Canada’s Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives and the Steering Committee on Canada’s Archives Response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Taskforce’s (TRC-TF) Reconciliation Framework for Canadian Archives. I argue that these writings and documents come together to point out that an examination of power relationships is a central theme in reconciliatory archival work. Harm reduction concepts, with power and relationality at their core, draw upon principles relating to meaningfully engaging and shifting power to impacted peoples and communities. Harm reduction concepts remind us that while immediate harms must be addressed, doing so will never be enough unless the structures from which this harm continually flows are also addressed. Systemic power relations around stewardship and decision making over records must be addressed through meaningful community engagement, involvement and power-shifts, illuminated by the fact that we cannot re-describe our way out of white supremacy.
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