[The following was written by Kai Geddes, currently working for the UBC Archives in the Work Learn student employee programme]

While continuing my academic career at the University of British Columbia (UBC) as a Masters in Library and Information Studies (MLIS) graduate student in September of 2019, from Vancouver Island University (VIU), I had the opportunity to attain a Work Learn position as a digitization student assistant at the UBC Archives.

Having worked as a Work Learn student at the Indigenously rich campus of VIU as a Services for Aboriginal Students Cultural Events Coordinator at the Gathering Place (Shq’apthut), and an Archival Student Assistant (the first at VIU, where I worked on the very extensive Milner Garden fonds), I was eager to start working on UBC campus.  I was not sure which position I would get hired for after I sent in a few employment applications in the middle of August of 2019. Thankfully, I received an email from UBC Archives asking me to come in for an interview in early September for the Digitization Student Assistant position. During my interview I was able to gloss over my Indigenous heritage and my work experience at VIU. Later that day, I received an email that I got hired.

As a Digitization Student Assistant, my hours were spent retrieving photographs and negatives from the UBC Archives vault, scanning them, and then by using Adobe, touching them up with the program’s digitization tools.  The most difficult to touch-up are white spots which appear because of the degradation of film negatives; there are also large wrinkles called “channels,” and discolouration due to the age of the cellulose film that was used.  All of these are problematic, but there are ways to improve the quality of the images through digitization. I also assisted with community order requests, such as photographs for magazines or television shows, digitizing cassette tapes for educational institutions, and photographs such as sports teams and those from yearbooks or magazines.

When COVID-19 led to the closure of most of its facilities and services on campus in Mid-March of 2020, including the Irving K. Barber Library where the UBC Archives is located, my duties as a Digitization Student Assistant changed along with it. However, despite this, I had a very fortunate opportunity presented to me: to look over the UBC Archives’ website and recommend, if any, changes that could be made from an Indigenous perspective. Through the lens of an Indigenous student who has taken several classes on the subject, I was in a unique position to see what might be regarded as problematic for Indigenous Peoples.

One such example is the term First Nations, which has become somewhat outdated due to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) which today recommends using Indigenous instead of terms like Indian, Aboriginal, or First Nations. However, of course, there are some exceptions to this recommendation such as Native American for those residing in the United States, and Aborigines for people who first occupied Australia and New Zealand. A rough draft of my findings was sent to the UBC Archivist for feedback and a final report will be sent in October 2020.

After taking classes and working from home over the summer, I was happy to return the UBC Archives and work with archival materials—this time as an Archival Processing Student Assistant. While I have had experience working with fonds, as mentioned above, I have not worked alone on receiving an accrued acquisition from its very beginning. Of course, I did have supervision from the University’s Archivist for my work on this accrual to the Allon Peebles fonds. The process began with sorting the materials into the previous eight categories of the existing fonds (which I extended to nine), which were provided from the work done by previous Work Learn students. After that was done, I added the materials to the finding aid which later needed to be updated with new descriptions, notes, and the number of materials added to the fonds.

At the end of August of 2021, I will be receiving my MLIS graduate degree with a First Nations Curriculum Concentration which in part is due to my Indigenous work at the UBC Archives over the summer of 2020.  My experience working at the UBC Archives has been a very positive one; unfortunately, I have heard from counselors that this is not the case for most Indigenous students in the Work Learn program. I do not know the details of exactly why their experiences have been troublesome, but I can see how fitting into a predominantly colonial educational institution may be uncomfortable for some.

Moving forward, after graduation I hope to continue my studies at UBC in the iSchool’s PhD program in September of 2021. My focus will be on Indigenous issues such as identity and what it means in Canada for those who are bi-racial (those who have one parent who is Indigenous and the other parent who is from a colonial background) – who are “living on the hyphen” (balancing both identities and not considering one to be more dominant than the other).

Kleco! Kleco! [Thank you!]

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