‘By do­ing this, you’re keep­ing them alive’

The project aims to trans­fer ana­log record­ings of In­dige­nous cul­ture and his­tory

StarMetro Edmonton - - FRONT PAGE - HAMDI IS­SAWI Full story at thes­tar.com/ed­mon­ton

U of A project us­ing tech­nol­ogy to save In­dige­nous voices from fad­ing away

An In­dige­nous me­dia group and re­searchers are rac­ing the clock to save a slice of his­tory be­fore it turns to dust.

Their project, dubbed Dig­i­tiz­ing the An­ces­tors, is a joint ven­ture of the Sound Stud­ies In­sti­tute at the Univer­sity of Al­berta, and the Abo­rig­i­nal Multi-Me­dia So­ci­ety of Al­berta (AMMSA), an or­ga­ni­za­tion be­hind dig­i­tal and broad­cast news out­lets serv­ing In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties through­out the prov­ince.

To­gether, they’re try­ing to copy old au­dio and video tapes saved by In­dige­nous news me­dia over the years and con­vert them to a dig­i­tal for­mat for pos­ter­ity.

CEO Bert Crow­foot said in the 1980s AMMSA bought the liq­ui­dated archives of its pre­de­ces­sor, the Al­berta Na­tive Com­mu­ni­ca­tion So­ci­ety, which pub­lished a news­pa­per and pro­vided broad­cast pro­gram­ming and news for In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties in the prov­ince with stu­dios in Ed­mon­ton, Lac la Biche, Fort Chipewyan and Wabasca-Des­marais in north­ern Al­berta.”

The cache in­cludes thou­sands of reels of tape — dat­ing back to the 1960s — con­tain­ing In­dige­nous mu­sic, sto­ries, and au­dio and video in­ter­views with el­ders and com­mu­nity lead­ers, such as the late Anne An­der­son, Crow­foot added, an au­thor of Métis his­tory and Cree lan­guage books, in­clud­ing a Cree dic­tio­nary.

“We own all of these archives, and we did noth­ing with them for about 33 years,” Crow­foot said of the stock­pile, which was, un­til now, stacked and stored in boxes in a spare room. “But if it sits on a tape that de­te­ri­o­rates, and we can’t dig­i­tize it, then that’s lost in­for­ma­tion that we have no ac­cess to.”

Much of the store is saved on frag­ile mag­netic tape near­ing the end of its shelf life, a re­al­ity that prompted the part­ner­ship be­tween AMMSA and the Sound Stud­ies In­sti­tute, directed by Univer­sity of Al­berta mu­si­col­o­gist Mary In­gra­ham, to cat­a­logue and trans­fer the tapes to dig­i­tal me­dia. Af­ter an in­ven­tory, the first step was to flag and triage the most sen­si­tive tapes need­ing ur­gent ac­tion, In­gra­ham said, “mean­ing mag­netic tape that was start­ing to de­te­ri­o­rate, be­cause it does that af­ter 50 to 60 years.”

Read­ing reel-to-reel tape that’s old and brit­tle could just spit out dust dur­ing the trans­fer process, Crow­foot added. For­tu­nately, many of the tapes are still in good con­di­tion, with only a few show­ing signs of old age.

“If they have this vine­gar smell, that means they’re start­ing to de­te­ri­o­rate,” he ex­plained. “We only have four or five reels that were start­ing to smell.”

“To be able to pre­serve some of the el­ders speak­ing in their lan­guage, and have that avail­able to the com­mu­nity is re­ally im­por­tant,” In­gra­ham said. “These are voices that would not be heard any­more, be­cause (many of them) have passed on.”


Bert Crow­foot, CEO of Wind­speaker, shows off some of the records of in­dige­nous cul­ture that he is dig­i­tiz­ing in Ed­mon­ton.


Pho­tog­ra­pher Bert Crow­foot bought boxes of old au­dio­tape and film for a dol­lar an­dit's turn­ing out to be a price­less trove of In­dige­nous story, cul­ture and lan­guage.

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