The MacFarlane Collection was named after the Hudson’s Bay trader who assembled the objects, and includes nearly 5000 natural history specimens, such as birds’ eggs and animal skeletons, and an additional 300 cultural objects collected from Inuvialuit people of the Anderson River region in the 1860s.
The Inuvialuit are the Inuit of the Western Canadian Arctic. Few Inuvialuit have ever seen MacFarlane Collection in its entirety, as it has been in the Smithsonian’s care for 150 years. In 2009, our project team sought to change this by raising funds to take a small group of Inuvialuit Elders, traditional experts, and educators to Washington D.C. for a week-long workshop with the collection. This modest start brought much interest from the Inuvialuit and museum communities, and launched a broader program of outreach with Inuvialuit youth, Elders, and community members. The project has facilitated the generation of new knowledge about the MacFarlane collection and its ongoing life in Inuvialuit communities, and a virtual exhibit and searchable archive of the collection.
Inuvialuit Pitqusiit Inuuniarutait: Inuvialuit Living History
This project is focused on a little-known collection of objects housed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. The MacFarlane Collection was named after the Hudson’s Bay trader who assembled the objects, and includes nearly 5000 natural history specimens, such as birds’ eggs and animal skeletons, and an additional 300 cultural objects collected from Inuvialuit people of the Anderson River region in the 1860s. The Inuvialuit are the Inuit of the Western Canadian Arctic. Few Inuvialuit have ever seen MacFarlane Collection in its entirety, as it has been in the Smithsonian’s care for 150 years. In 2009, our project team sought to change this by raising funds to take a small group of Inuvialuit Elders, traditional experts, and educators to Washington D.C. for a week-long workshop with the collection. This modest start brought much interest from the Inuvialuit and museum communities, and launched a broader program of outreach with Inuvialuit youth, Elders, and community members. The project has facilitated the generation of new knowledge about the MacFarlane collection and its ongoing life in Inuvialuit communities, and a virtual exhibit and searchable archive of the collection.? ?During our visit at the National Museum of Natural History in 2009, Elder Albert Elias described the MacFarlane Collection as a “living collection”. As curator Stephen Loring pulled intricate items of clothing, tools, hunting, and artwork from storage, members of the project team recalled how many of these objects had once been used in practice. They also discussed how new access to artifacts in the collection will inspire the re-creation of cultural objects, other cultural activities, and education programs. For our project team, the MacFarlane Collection represents “Inuvilauit Pitqusiit Inuuniarutait: Inuvialuit Living History”. This is the name that the team chose for the virtual exhibit and searchable object archive found at www.inuvialuitlivinghistory.ca.
Project Methods & Consultations
This project is a community-based research project grounded in the Inuvialuit desire to create greater access to and knowledge about the MacFarlane Collection. As a research team, we strive to have open, honest, respectful and effective communication in our working relationships. We aim to be flexible in our thinking, accept one another’s ideas, and to come up with ways to integrate different viewpoints into our products. We aim for each team member to contribute to project planning and to give input and feedback on the products we are developing. We have consulted extensively with Inuvialuit community members throughout the project on planning and product development (see below). Our goal for our research participants—including Inuvialuit Elders, youth, and community members—is to make them feel comfortable and safe, and to put their health and well-being first in our research activities with them.
We pursued a range of outreach activities in the Inuvialuit community to gather and share Inuvialuit knowledge about the MacFarlane Collection. Now we are expanding our outreach. Following our 2009 trip to the Smithsonian, we shared our experiences through school and community meetings in Inuvialuit communities, documented Elders’ knowledge about the collection and the Anderson River area, and engaged youth interest in the collection and the project through classroom visits, teacher consultations, and the ongoing development of relevant curriculum. In the fall and winter of 2010 we consulted with Inuvialuit elders, teachers, and school children in Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk to seek input on the development of the prototype website. In winter and spring of 2011, we developed the design, structure, and content of the project website, and worked to gain feedback from community members. In June 2011, we visited with students and teachers, as well as Parks interpretive staff and other educators, in Inuvik, to show them a working prototype of the website and garner their feedback.
Our consultation processes have proved extremely informative and useful. Finally, our virtual exhibit and archive was built using digital collections data from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. This data was made available to us through the Reciprocal Research Network ––the National Museum of Natural History, which holds the MacFarlane Collection, is an institutional partner––providing an opportunity for our project team to present the collection from our own perspective. Visitors to the MacFarlane Collection at www.inuvialuitlivinghistory.ca are encouraged to join the RRN, where password protected discussions can occur, research partnerships can be formed, and knowledge about the collection can be added to object records. Sharing this digital information, allowing it to be re-presented by our team, is an important step in relationship-building between the Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre, project team members, and the Smithsonian’s Arctic Studies Center and National Museum of Natural History.
About the Website
Inuvialuit Pitqusiit Inuuniarutait has been constructed to create access for Inuvialuit people and the interested public to the Smithsonian’s MacFarlane Collection. We have designed the website as a place for learning and teaching, and to provide a view into the emerging and dynamic relationship between Inuvialuit peoples and the MacFarlane Collection. The website functions as a) a video and photo documentary of our trip to Washington D.C. to view the collection; b) an informative virtual exhibit about the history of the collection, including the biography of Roderick MacFarlane and the short life of Fort Anderson; c) a source of information about the Smithsonian Institution, and how it came to be in possession of these invaluable artifacts; and d) a resource on repatriation, ownership, and intellectual property rights to the collection.
We use interactive maps to connect the item records and related community media to places in the Anderson River area, and show how knowledge of the collection is being applied in everyday life. Users can request patterns to be mailed for sewing “recreations” of some of the clothing in the collection. The website also features teachers’ resources and interactive lesson plans tailored to meet the requirements for the Northwest Territories curriculum, so that Inuvialuit youth can reference their own culture and history online.
At the heart of the website is the MacFarlane Collection itself. Building on the digital collections data provided by the National Museum of Natural History and the Reciprocal Research Network, our team has collaboratively written, revised, or corrected item records, and then re-organized them by “tagging” according to categories such as “Type” (i.e. footwear, clothing, art, adze, bow, etc…), “Theme” (i.e sea mammal hunting, dancing, transportation, etc…), as well as Materials, Manufacturing Techniques, and Inuvialuktun terms in the Siglitun dialect. Rather than following a pre-determined path through the collection, users are encouraged to explore according to their own interests, and to follow links to the RRN if they would like to contribute knowledge about the collection in a password-protected space. Further, we have tagged our photo and video documentation of the trip to Washington D.C., and subsequent community activities, with related items in the MacFarlane Collection. This means that viewing items in our site also becomes an experience of viewing project team members holding, discussing, and sharing knowledge about the items; in the same way, when viewing photo and video documentation of our team at the National Museum of Natural History, viewers are able to access information about the specific items that they see in the documentary media.
By connecting the MacFarlane Collection to video and photographs of our workshop with Inuvialuit Elders, youth, and cultural workers at the Smithsonian, and our team’s consultations in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, we aim to show how the MacFarlane collection is becoming a “living collection” once again through its reconnection to Inuvialuit people. Finally, it has been our goal for the website to reflect the collaborative spirit in which the project has been carried out, by including video and photographs of our production process.
In addition to teaching about the collection and this project, we hope that the website will become an archive of documentation of community activities and other resources related to ongoing educational and cultural programs related to the MacFarlane Collection. The homepage of the website features blog-type posts with images, videos, and descriptions of ongoing activities, such as Freda Raddi’s Inuvialuit clothing pattern-making project at the Smithsonian, and her recreation of shoes for her grandchildren.
Photos at top: Elder Albert Elias tries out snow goggles collected by Roderick MacFarlane (photo: K. Hennessy). Catherine Cockney examining Inuvialuit gloves (photo: D. Stewart). Inuvialuit elders Albert Elias and Helen Gruben discuss a glove in their language, Inuvialuktun (photo: D. Stewart). Pattern made from ancestral gloves, a tradition previously lost to the Inuvialuit, but now revived (photo: K. Hennessy).