Indigenous Studies Portal
Welcome to the iPortal Tutorial Module on "Searching for Oral Histories"
Tansi! For those, including grad students and faculty, wanting to learn how to search for oral histories in the iPortal, there are several ways to do so. Here are a few of them: The first one, the easiest one, is by doing a keyword search for your specific topic, perhaps it's related to governance or cultural traditions, and then selecting the "oral histories" option in the drop down menu for "Resource Type" (to the right of the keyword search box), and then click on "Search". Then take a look at the resources. Keep in mind that results will usually be transcripts of one-on-one interviews with Elders or else transcripts of conference presentations by Elders. Almost all of these results originate with the Indian History Film Project that was developed in the 1970s and 1980s by the Canadian Plains Research Centre at the University of Regina. These filmed interviews and conference presentations have been preserved in text format as transcripts and made available online due to the delicate nature of the films now. This content is very valuable considering that many of these Elders are no longer with us and they have shared some information that would otherwise be very difficult to obtain now.
Just one word of caution, the transcripts might cover a wide range of topics (and are often holistic in nature) and to narrow the content down to just one or two "subject headings" or keywords might mean that there is material in each interview that may be above and beyond the keywords and not as "visible" as in other searches for different resource types. If you are familiar with the names of some of the Elders from the 1970s and 1980s, particularly those from Saskatchewan and Alberta, searching by name might also be another strategy for searching oral histories. For instance, the last name of Tootoosis is a search term (when combined with the Oral Histories Resource Type as mentioned earlier) that will obtain many results from Saskatchewan; likewise, the last name of Cardinal as a search term will obtain many results from Alberta.
A final word on searching by oral history resource type, a researcher can take cues from the results that come up and, for instance, also just search using terms like, Elders Conference, and obtain several interesting results, primarily from the 1970s and 1980s.
Another way to search for oral histories is to do a keyword search on "Royal Commission" and then add a topic(s) you are researching, such as health care, land claims, economic development, women's issues, or education. This type of searching will obtain results not found earlier when searching using the oral histories as Resource Type. This is because the iPortal contains more than 2200 verbatim transcripts of round table hearings of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples that took place in the early to mid-1990s and represent another type of oral history document; all of these are designated as a different type of Resource Type, that is, "E-Books > Documents & Presentations". Also, these transcripts were donated to the Native Law Centre at the University of Saskatchewan and were later donated to the University Archives, which then hosted the transcripts on the Our Legacy website.
Searching the Royal Commission transcripts will usually (depending on the topic) obtain more results than using the oral history as resource type option as there are only 1100 transcripts in the Indian History Film Project, as opposed to the 2200 Royal Commission transcripts. Consequently, if the researcher obtains too many results, one way to limit results will be to add a geographic region to the search, such as the name of a reserve or a city. An example might be: Royal Commission + education = 500+ results, but Royal Commission + education + Saskatoon = 20+ results. Or Royal Commission + land claims = 160+ results, but Royal Commission + land claims + British Columbia = 14 results. If the researcher is particularly interested in the Royal Commission transcripts pertaining to Saskatchewan, the best search strategy would be to do an Advanced Search, see the green tab on the upper right corner of the website.
For instance, once you are in the Advanced Search page, type Royal Commission in the Title field and then type your topic and Saskatchewan in the Description field. An example would be: Title field: Royal Commission + Description Field: land claims Saskatchewan = 8 results.
The Royal Commission transcripts can also be searched by the name of the person presenting or by the tribal group during the Round Table hearings. In this case, just enter that person's name. For instance, Royal Commission + Fontaine = 18 results. Or, Royal Commission + Dene = 30+ results.
It is important to know what kind of information the transcripts will provide. Generally, they will include presentations made by various community leaders, including from governance organizations such as the Assembly of First Nations, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians, etc. as well as community organizations, such as the Saskatchewan Indian Agriculture Program, the Friendship Centres across the country, the Native Homemakers Associations, or the Aboriginal Peoples Business Association. The transcripts will also include questions from and discussions by the various Royal Commission Commissioners, such as Commissioner Bertha Wilson or Co-Chair Rene Dussault, to clarify something stated in the presentation, as well as responses to those questions by the community leaders. The date and location of the public hearing or round table will be apparent on each page of the transcript and the transcripts can vary in length from less than 20 pages long to more than 100 pages long. Many of the themes that run through the presentations are about a desire for self-determination and respect for treaty rights.
As mentioned a little earlier, keep in mind there may be a few outlier (or irrelevant) results when searching Royal Commission + a topic as there might be journal articles or theses that come up but this doesn't happen often. If the researcher finds that this is happening more often and it is a problem, please refer to searching the Royal Commission transcripts by using the Advanced Search option mentioned earlier.
One last way to search for oral histories is to simply do a keyword search for oral histories + your topic of interest. This type of search will also obtain results about oral histories, such as articles, websites (such as those of cultural centres, heritage organizations and museums), book reviews of books written about oral histories, and theses. Searching with this strategy will not obtain results from the Indian History Film Project or the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples transcripts so there is considerable value in using this search strategy as a way to obtain other types of oral history documentation.
I hope you will take advantage of all that the Royal Commission transcripts have to offer in terms of testimonies about the experiences of Aboriginal peoples across the country leading up to the early and mid-1990s from so many different perspectives. Feel free to explore this resource and to search extensively using the tips provided in this tutorial.
Ekosi, that is all for now.
Prepared by Deborah Lee with L. O'Grady and A. St-Jacques, December 2015