- 'Pictures Bring Us Messages' / Sinaakssiiksi aohtsimaahpihkookiyaawa: Photographs and Histories from the Kainai Nation
In 1925 Beatrice Blackwood, an Oxford researcher, spent two days visiting the Blood First Nation Reserve in southern Alberta. She took thirty-three photographs of Kainai men, women, and children, recorded their measurements, and took hair samples as part of an anthropology project. Her photographs and field notes are in the collection of the University of Oxford's Pitt Rivers Museum. In 2001 researcher Alison K. Brown and curator Laura Peers worked with members of the source community to gain a better understanding of their perspectives on [End Page 350] Blackwood's photographs. The authors discuss the history of stereo-typical views of Aboriginal people taken by non-Native photographers from the early exploratory expeditions in the west, to the anthropological records of the dying races, to Edward Curtis's romantic portraits. Another objective was to gain a fuller understanding of early-twentieth-century history of the Kainai Nation when they were facing enormous challenges of poverty, government seizures of their land for non-native settlement, adoption of a new farming and ranching economy, the detrimental affect of residential schools on cultural values, and the government's prohibition of parts of their sacred Sundance ceremony.
Brown and Peers, together with members of the Kainai Nation, also address a concern that some Aboriginal histories have been written on the basis of inadequate and incorrect field observations held in archival collections. The appendix contains a statement of consent for interviewees and a protocol agreement between the Mookaakin Cultural Heritage Foundation and the Pitt Rivers Museum stating that the museum would repatriate a set of Blackwood's photographs, recover information about culture and history through interviewing the elders, write a short book, inform museum professionals in the United Kingdom (and elsewhere) about the significance of photographs in recovering cultural information for First Nations People, and help develop a continuing community-based education project, exhibition, or teaching materials. The foundation in turn provided the names of individuals who were interviewed. The appendix contains a fascinating comparison between Blackwood's diary and commentary on her observations by members of the Kainai Nation, who reveal that some of Blackwood's observations were based on assumptions or comments by the Indian agent who accompanied her on a tour of the reserve. Another outcome of the collaborative project was the recovery of names of many individuals portrayed in the photographs. The book records the process of their collaborative community-based research, serving as a sound methodology for curators and scholars undertaking similar projects, and the useful protocols and agreements serve as models for working with Aboriginal archival collections.