Loss of heritage

I generally use this space to talk about issues related to motherhood, rather than current events going on in the news at the present. However this issue, while not specifically related to the topic of children and motherhood, will in fact influence  all of us -including our current generation of children. 

I'm talking about the loss of heritage. 

Have you ever had a school project related to history? Conducted your own research or written texts/books that require references to history? What about family history? When you listen to your favorite music on the radio-do you ever wonder what would happen if one day your favorite song ceased to be available? Do you ever wonder what would happen if all the documents, historical, personal or otherwise; the art objects, photographs, oral histories and even surgical instruments (yes surgical tools); music, documentation on grass roots movements, the feminist movement, and social justice literature were no longer available?

Well, we will soon find out. The following is an excerpt from the archival community's call to action that succinctly sums up current issues being faced by archives:

"On April 30, 2012, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) eliminated the
National Archival Development Program (NADP), a $1.7 million
contribution program administered for the LAC by the non-profit
Canadian Council of Archives (CCA) and distributed to 13 provincial
and territorial archives councils to support archival activities
locally.  Through these councils, NADP funding is on the ground in our
10 provinces and 3 territories, ensuring that Canada’s history is
preserved in local communities.  Canada’s archival councils provide
support to archives and archivists so that they may better serve all

The NADP was a vital component of LAC’s legislated responsibility to
foster preservation, promotion and access to Canada’s documentary
heritage. As stated in the Act:

7. The objects of the Library and Archives of Canada are…
(b) to make that heritage known to Canadians and to anyone with an
interest in Canada and to facilitate access to it;…
(f) to support the development of the library and archival communities.

8. (1) The Librarian and Archivist may do anything that is conducive
to the attainment of the objects of the Library and Archives of
Canada, including
(i) provide professional, technical and financial support to those
involved in the preservation and promotion of the documentary heritage
and in providing access to it;

The elimination of the NADP will result in the collapse of 11 of the
13 provincial and territorial archives councils, councils that support
the day-to-day functioning of archives across the country.  Many of
these councils were forced to suspend operations immediately.
Archival institutions that invested precious resources into the
preparation of NADP funding applications were forced to suspend
projects that had already been approved by the CCA.  Countless jobs
will now go unfilled. Consequently, archives’ mandate to make
government transparent, to make information available to citizens, and
to preserve records of Canadian culture and society will be greatly

In addition, the federal government has sent more than 500 surplus
notices to Library and Archives Canada, which will ultimately have its
staff reduced by 20%.  LAC has also cancelled its Inter-Library Loan
program; cut reference staff; imposed a "new service model" that
requires the public to make an appointment for reference requests; cut
library cataloguers by a third; and cut private archivists and media
specialists by 35%, which means not only that significant Canadian
heritage will not be acquired, but that researchers will not be able
to talk to experts who knew their fields as these experts simply won't
exist any more.  At the same time, the government unilaterally shut
down libraries in the Transport, Immigration, and Public Works

Funding cuts to the Heritage sector and the cut of the NADP is not simply for the sake of budgets, but wreaks of a deliberate attack on heritage.  Some might argue, a tactic to rewrite history in a militaristic light that kindly favors the current PM. This is not the first time Prime Minister Stephen Harper has attempted to rewrite historyOther examples can be found hereWhy should this matter? Because archives and decisions made regarding them are important. 
These decisions are important, because archival records will influence the future. What we choose to collect today, how we choose to describe those materials, and the messages that these actions will convey, will affect the knowledge and understanding of those histories for our unborn children, seven generations into the future.  

So if droves of archival materials are being sold off at auctions and doors of archival institutions are being closed - who is left to preserve and make accessible these materials?

A common response to this is - well everything is digital now, so we don't need archivists or textual documents - wrong. Digitization is expensive. Not to mention it takes the specialization and staff of the very people whose jobs were or are in the process of being terminated as a result of these cuts. Not to mention preservation issues associated with born digital (items like word docs that never had a physical form) and digitized items are far from resolved. Sure you might have word documents now that are saved just fine on your computer - what will you do then in 5 years when the technology required to open or read these materials is obsolete? And who will be responsible for maintaining and preserving the digitized formats? Making them accessible to the public? Or ensuring their authenticity? Whether they are digital or textual, objects or photographs, someone is still required to ensure they survive as long as possible to carry forward to future generations. 

The fact of the matter is, that archives touch facets of our daily lives that we are not even aware of and these cuts serve as a grave disservice to the Canadian public. They effect myself, 
as a mother, archivist, art historian, postcolonial scholar, writer and activist. They effect the divorced woman who immigrated from Poland and needs historical proof of her marriage to her husband in order to be able to claim her pension - proof existing in the archives. They effect the scientists looking to refer to previous research in order to refine their own and contribute to advancements. They effect the student looking for answers to research questions or the child searching for information on their family tree for a school project. These cuts effect us all. Materials that are taught in elementary schools reference these archival materials, genealogy research requires archives. 

While I'll be the first one to admit that history is most often written by the "winners" and that mainstream archival institutions themselves still have a way to go in terms of inclusion of traditionally marginalized communities - if they are no longer there, we will never be able to right social injustices. Library and Archives Canada has one of the most referenced record groups comprised of archival records of the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA). From its inception on April 15, 1755, the mandate of the DIA was to eliminate the culture of Aboriginal peoples by assimilating them into Euro-Canadian society.  The majorities of these records are kept at the National Archives of Canada (LAC) and are referred to as records group 10 (RG 10). RG 10 is one of the most referenced groups in the collection of LAC. Due to the control the DIA maintained over all Aboriginal peoples of Canada, it is often referenced for court cases, treaty claims and personal research. In recent news, in Toronto the United Church of Canada is in the process of finding archival evidence in cases of forced adoptions. So while archives, like history in general, are flawed in ways, they do serve as evidence. If you wipe out the evidence - who will be left to tell the story of our heritage?

Some of you might be sitting there reading this and saying, yes this is all fine and dandy, but what can I do about it? The answer is simple - everything. These programs and institutions are for the most part publicly funded. Which means we all have the ability and responsibility to make our voices heard. If you are interested in getting involved you can start by signing this petition and passing it on to everyone you know:

You can write a letter to your a Member of Parliment. Here is a list:

You can show your support by joining the Canadian Council for Archives Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Canadian-Council-of-Archives-Conseil-canadien-des-archives/283674911724409

Lastly, join us on March 28th for the "On to Ottawa Trek." This is an event that will be culminating in Ottawa with regional activities cross-Canada. It is for everyone - not just archivists, students, historians, researchers, teachers, curators, writers or genealogists but anyone who cares about heritage and heritage preservation. 

To find out about an event in your area you can refer to the official website:

We can not allow heritage to be lost. Let's stand up for heritage and ensure that 
our unborn children, seven generations into the future will be able to benefit from a rich, diversified, inclusive, social history. 

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