A Cold Lake First Nations (CLFN) project has been selected by Library and Archives Canada for funding as part of the Documentary Heritage Communities Program.

The $50,000 grant will allow CLFN create a long-term archival program plan including recommendations to preserve the organization’s archives and make them accessible. It will also allow CLFN to hire a professional archivist for one year to begin building the program and to advise on a long-term strategy to ensure the safety and accessibility of the records.

CLFN consultation manager Nicole Nicholls submitted the grant application with input and encouragement from Bob Machatis, an Elder in the CLFN community.

“Ever since I’ve known Bob, he has always talked about the importance of preserving information of the Nation and wanting it to be accessible for members,” Nicholls said.

She had begun the process of finding and organizing the information and materials that CLFN is storing at a number of sites. “There’s boxes and boxes of information that the band had in storage, and they contain a lot of treasures,” she said.

Much of the information relates to CLFN’s successful claim for compensation after their territory was taken by the Department of National Defence (DND) to establish the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range in the early 1950s. 

The arrangement to use the land was originally set up as a 20-year “loan.” DND unilaterally renewed the loan for another 20 years in 1972, and then in 1992 informed the First Nation that the terms of the loan were now indefinite, Machatis said.

This triggered the land claim process, which ultimately awarded CLFN $25 million plus 5,000 cares of land. 

Gathering the necessary documentation for the claim revealed important cultural and historical information that might otherwise have remained buried, Machatis said.

“I didn’t realize the really beautiful history that we had,” he said. “I used to hear it from my grandparents but you know, you kind of slough it off. But when we went to research for this legal project and dig even deeper, the picture that started from that was an awesome picture that I never knew anything about.”

Machatis became determined to create a permanent, accessible repository for the thousands of documents, photographs, and artifacts. He said it will be an important resource for the Nation’s young people.

“There’s a bunch of kids at school that are learning a curriculum that does not include our history. It is a curriculum developed and approved by the provincial government,” he said. “They need a place to go and access certain information whether it be family tree, family history, or community history. So we need to store that information somewhere so that it’s easily accessible to kids to be able to put into their own life and learn from it.”

Nicholls said the grant will permit CLFN to hire a professional archivist for a year. This will be enough to begin the
process of identifying, preserving, and cataloguing the materials.

But history goes on, and a creating and managing a permanent archive will be an ongoing endeavour. Nicholls said the archivist and CLFN will reach out to architectural firms with experience in museums and archives to determine the requirements for housing the collections.

While it is important to have the archive organized and accessible, Nicholls and Machatis both say there is also the issue of ownership. Machatis said there are documents and artifacts all over the world that rightfully belong at Cold Lake First Nations. Some of this material is being well cared for, but some is buried away from view. 

Machatis and Nicholls say it would be better if CLFN could keep it where it belongs.

“It really helps empower the Nation to steward its own information rather than relying on outside agencies,” Nicholls said. “Being able to connect to or repatriate information and artifacts that are held elsewhere would be awesome.”