Makivvik’s archive is being organized one box at a time

Boxes line shelves on the walls beside Sarah Nantel’s desk in Makivvik’s Montreal office. In fact, there are also boxes on the floor, waiting for approval for their contents to be securely shredded, and packages propped against the wall. Sarah is a consultant and heads Makivvik’s archives division.

“We have everything,” she says referring to items amassed over Makivvik’s 40-year history. Nothing is shredded or disposed of before careful vetting, scanning, and documentation. “We have art, we have photographs, we have textual documents, we have digital records, we have basically everything. I have textiles even.”

It’s a massive undertaking to identify, catalogue and preserve items from the corporation’s history, and a job that spans different locations, as Makivvik has offices not just in Kuujjuaq and Montreal, but in Quebec City, and formerly one in Ottawa. When Sarah joined with her assistant in 2019, there were just under 2,000 banker boxes in off-site storage. The boxes had been sent there over the years, and there was no archival or records management program until then. There are more materials currently in Montreal than Kuujjuaq, which is fortunate as the storage capabilities are currently superior.

While the archive does contain some physical objects, much of it is made up of corporate items: signed agreements, legal documents, and research documents, for example.

“It is a historical record. It has value for the communities, it’s the history of the JBNQA, NILCA, NQIA, all of that, the timeline, the timeline for research purposes, but also for familial, community, personal purposes too,” she says. “The research department studies are used by university students, furthering research, furthering knowledge, furthering topics like climate control. All those things are important. And they’re not just important just for the north; it’s also giving that information to the rest of the world, saying, ‘Hey! We saw this first. We told you guys it was coming, here is your proof that we were trying to tell you.’ But also, injustice. That’s probably the biggest one, righting injustices, having the history of injustices, using that information to go forward, to argue for rights, to argue, this is what was done. We have a history of this, and I think that’s super important.

Sarah doesn’t work alone; she has an archival assistant, Patrick O’Reilly, and Makivvik has hired an Inuk archives clerk, Jessie-Anne Knox-Leet. The team is occupied with dealing with requests for things necessary for current work, as well as documenting and archiving material as it comes to them. They also do the Information Governance and Records Management Program as well as slowly going through the boxes in Montreal and Kuujjuaq that have not been processed. And they never know what they will find; for example, they have discovered coffee mugs, dusty candies, cans of tuna, drawings, and even seaweed from past studies.

Archival assistant Patrick O’Reilly, and archives clerk Jessie-Anne Knox-Leet are working along with Sarah Nantel to keep Makivvik’s archives up to date and secure.

A request was made one day by a department to find a copy of a very important document. “I was literally waist-high in boxes, because at that point things hadn’t been organized in the warehouse, and I’m sitting there going through all these boxes, and I found the paper! We didn’t have a legal obligation to keep it, but we happened to keep it and I handed it to him,” Sarah says. “There you go — archives.” They also are providing reference materials for use in film documentaries, such as one currently looking at the Killiniq relocation.

The division falls under the umbrella of the Corporate Secretary Department, headed by Executive Alicia Aragutak. A draft policy has been completed regarding the archives and is waiting for vetting by the organization’s senior managers.

“It’s very important that we have proper corporate memory for an important organization like Makivvik,” Alicia says. “Not only for all the work that has been initiated by the corporation, also all the initiatives that it’s been involved in, to protect information and to ensure that the narrative of the information is not compromised.”

While it is mainly a corporate archive, there is some information that would be valuable for beneficiaries, and Makivvik is committed to assisting them in retrieving it, so long as others’ personal information is not compromised. Alicia also assured that the corporate memory of Nunavik Beneficiaries is being handled diligently.

In the meantime, Sarah and her team have secured funding through Library and Archives Canada’s, “Listen, Hear Our Voices Program,” and will be using that to migrate analog sound material that is at risk of deteriorating. She says NQIA meetings and other oral history-type material need to be transferred and preserved for future generations. With a portion of that money, they also hope to hire a beneficiary and train them to do the work, which will entail finding the legacy equipment to be able to play the old material, as well as taking down meta data and transcribing to use for archival descriptions so eventually people would be able to search it.

Makivvik’s offices display art from the Corporate collection. The process of photographing and labelling all the material is underway. © Miriam Dewar/Makivvik

The Corporate Art Collection has already been photographed and given reference numbers. It has partially been uploaded to a digital repository called AtoM, while the appraisal for the collection is still underway. Loan requests have been coming in, Sarah says, making it a priority to organize what is there.

From sound, to art, to community photographs, to corporate documents, Makivvik’s archives division is truly an invaluable repository for artifacts as well as histories spanning the 40 years of the organization.

“We rely so much on non-Inuit for our very own corporate organization’s memory,” Alicia says. “Our inuuqatiks deserve access to the history, legal, formal processes that often have much impact in their daily lives.”