Touchstones Nelson opened the Indigenous Archive Photo Project exhibit last week with a talk by the Saskatchewan artist and journalist Paul Seesequasis.
It’s the first gallery exhibition of a project he has conducted so far through Facebook and Instagram, sourcing and sharing archived images of Indigenous people from museums and libraries across the country.
“Thinking about the period of residential schools,” he said, “we don’t often see the other side of that, the resilience and the strength of our various nations, how we kept the language culture traditions alive despite the laws, we found ways to do it, despite laws that said you can’t speak the language.”
He said he searched through archives, libraries, and historical societies, and began to uncover these photos. They don’t depict residential schools or problems in the community. They show people going about their everyday life.
Seesequasis started posting them on social media.
“The response was overwhelming,” he said. “People from different communities would text back and or message back and say, ‘That’s my auntie, that’s my uncle, my grandmother, my cousin, I remember when that picture was taken.’ And many of these people (in the photos) were still alive.
“So it became a really interesting exchange. This was giving these photos back to the community. It became more clear for me as the project went on, that this was a form of repatriation, of giving back the photos that are in the archives or in the museums or in the libraries, giving them back. And I don’t mean literally like handing them the photo, but now we can digitize them we can put them all online.
“Then it just gathered its own momentum as more and more people started following, more and more people are commenting on the photos, and it became a real discourse between myself posting them and people messaging back.”
The exhibit includes some prints of local First Nations people from the Touchstones archives.