When I deliberately chose to do a story featuring the library at the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv) people joked about how boring it was going to be. For a brief moment, I thought to myself, ‘This could be boring.’
I decided this was going to be anything but boring.
That’s when I found Paula Daigle and took a tour of the Special Collection.
She is the Teaching and Learning Librarian at FNUniv library, and let me tell you, she is a walking wealth of information with just enough spunk and enthusiasm to get anyone through their ‘boring’ library experience.
The special collection is “open to everyone, anywhere” says Paula.
Right now, only she and Belle Young, the Library Technician, can help interested patrons access it.
When people want to see items in the collection, Paula or Belle bring the items out.
But I got lucky. I was fortunate enough to be taken to the room where many items are stored.
I was lead down a dark basement hall, next to a kitchen, and across from the water pipe system, to a small room filled with historical artefacts, books and other materials that many people don’t know are located right here on the Regina campus.
No wonder nobody knows about the collection, it’s in the basement. But, why?
“The collection got too big for the current library space and it is the only room with a lock available,” says Paula. “We can also control the temperature for preservation.”
The first thing we did when we got into the room was put on our white gloves.
“They are a cotton glove that protects the paper from oil on your hands to prevent degradation. They are lint free as well,” Paula explains.
That’s cool I thought, but all I wanted to do was let my inner Michael Jackson come out, she did too, I could see it in her eyes.
We threw out a “hee-hee” and got back to business.
Paula showed me a bible dating back to 1861, which is written in Swampy Cree Syllabics.
Before I even touched it, my eyes welled with tears.
I have aunts and uncles who attended Residential Schools. They raised my dad, and I know from experience the effect it had on my family. So maybe that’s why I got emotional. Or, maybe it was the emotion of our ancestors that could be felt in that room.
When I finally picked up the artifact, I was speechless. The weight of it, every page covered in syllabics, and the coloring was incredible.
For a moment I forgot where I was, thinking about the journey this book had been on.
Then Paula said to me, “If there was a zombie apocalypse tomorrow, all electronic material would be gone, but this material would still be here, and readable.”
What a good point. This artifact is a huge part of history, colonization, and language preservation.
On the other side of the room was a big box of materials. Paula explained to me that they were teaching kits called the ‘Indian Studies File’.
“They were used in classrooms to teach about Indians,” she says.
I rummaged through the kit; it had books, posters, and more books.
The kit had information from 1968 to the late 1970s. Some of the material was shocking as it contained dated stereotypes, propaganda, racism, and ignorance.
As someone who worked in the education system for awhile, seeing the kit was not only appalling, but liberating at the same time. We have made a lot of progress when it comes to educational resources.
Also in the collections, FNUniv has the negatives of photographs that were taken by Edgar Rossie in the early 1900’s, which are of several Chiefs dressed in regalia.
“They are called the Indian Heads Collection,” says Paula.
I tried to seem calm and cool, but inside I was pretty damn excited about this one. Who doesn’t like looking at old pictures?
Paula carefully pulled a couple of them out of the box, and placed them on a plain piece of paper so that we could see the picture clearly.
Wow! The lines on the faces, the expressions, the regalia, all of it; truly incredible to see this memorabilia of our ancestors.
WARNING: These photographs can have a tendency to self-combust and there are no guarantees your fingers won’t end up looking like fire roasted hotdogs when looking at them; view at your own risk.
The oldest piece in the collections is a map from one of Captain Franklin’s expeditions.
The map is from 1825-26 A.D.. He marks dates on the map, what he saw along the way, and who he saw along the way.
This was drawn before treaties were signed, so it’s interesting to see how and who occupied the land. It read ‘last Esquimaux seen,’ which shows that he was in contact with the Inuit people.
These are just some of the items in the Special Collections. This library is unique in every sense.
“It is the largest repository of Indigenous information in one place in Canada, possibly North America,” Paula says.
Paula has strong feelings when she talks about preserving the Special Collections.
“We need an archives—I wish more students were able to access the special collections,” says Paula. “More people would be surrounded by history if in an archival setting.”
Libraries are meant to be a place for one to learn about themselves, the community, and the world around them. After my experience with Paula, I can definitely say that is the case here.
“People think it’s boring. I absolutely love our library,” exclaims Paula.
And today, I learned that the FNUniv library is not boring, you just need to know what to look for.