About the database

About the database The Advantages of Using this System

The resources found in this database are described elsewhere in the introduction to the collection. Most – but not all – of the abstracts are based on material found in the Archives of the Government of the Northwest Territories or the National Archives of Canada. These collections are huge and, in most cases, the finding aids poorly – and in some cases – very poorly describe the content of cases and files of material.

The advantage of using this system is that it potentially saves – depending on the size and scope of a research project – hundreds of hours of searching and considerable expense. For those researchers who do not have personal access to the national or other archives, the finding aid numbers and titles of the documents found in this database will allow you to order, from afar, the entire text in question without having to visit the archive. This could result in a potential saving of many hundreds – possibly more than a thousand – dollars of time and travel.

As noted, this database does not contain every document related to Inuit social history in the series of documents examined. However, in the case of RG 85 – records of the northern administration found in the National Archives of Canada, over a 15 year period, every case of material in the collection was examined. The same is true for RG 29, records of Health and Welfare Canada. Other series were thoroughly examined. For a description of how choices were made on what to cull from series of documents, see below.

If the documents abstracted in this database do not provide enough information for your purposes, there is some chance that other documents located in the same case or cases of material from which relevant material has been retrieved, may be of interest. The finding aid number included with the abstract will guide you to the document’s location and other documents in the same file. As noted, we have retrieved and abstracted all of the documents necessary to tell as complete a story as possible, as revealed by the documents in any particular file or series of files.

Finally, as a result of culling entire series of data, we have located relevant information in places where it might not otherwise be expected or revealed by the finding aids. For example, a file labeled “World Health Organization Conference, Geneva, 1956” might contain a paper presented by someone working for the Indian and Northern Health Service on the health status of Inuit. One would not normally find this given the file the label of the file found in a finding aid. You therefore have access to some material that would otherwise be extremely difficult to locate.

What’s Here?

This website contains abstracts of archival documents dealing with the social history of the Canadian Arctic. Geographically, the areas covered most extensively are what are now known as Nunavut Territory and the Inuvialuit Settlement Area. Historically, these were both part of the Northwest Territories. The collection also includes materials from the area currently known as the Northwest Territories, as well as materials from Arctic Quebec. The abstracts correspond to documents covering a period, commencing in 1880 and ending in 2002. Given that for the most part, these records have been taken from archival collections and, given the nature of public administration in the Canadian Arctic, it follows that there is a large volume of material for the period following the Second World War up until the late 1960s and early 1970s when administrative responsibility was gradually devolved from the Canadian federal administration to the Government of the Northwest Territories.

This database covers one of the most interesting and heavily documented periods in the history of the Canadian Arctic: a period when Inuit moved from traditional hunting camps to settlements. It can be argued that this movement, commencing largely in the mid-1950s and lasting until the mid to late 1960s, is unique in terms of the international history of Aboriginal people. The move made by Inuit from a form of life characteristic of their culture for thousands of years, was altered very late in the so-called ‘modern period’. Inuit were located within the territorial claims of a country that very much prided itself – and that was seen internationally to be part of – modern history and the ‘modern’ world. For this reason, the historical period and the administrative records are of particular interest. They provide insight into the colonial administration of a government and country not often associated with colonial history. An appreciation of trends and issues in the history of Arctic administration that precedes it is also important to fully appreciating the transformation. The database contains abstracts for materials both before and after the period noted above.

Where are the documents from?

The documents that are abstracted in this collection are from a limited number of archival collections that have very extensive records. The database you may be about to access contains over 10,000 entries. These abstracts are based on documents from the National Archives of Canada; record groups 12, 18, 22, 29 and 85, as well as a number of manuscript groups. Other abstracts deal with documents from collections of the Archives of the Government of the Northwest Territories, Prince of Wales Heritage Centre, Yellowknife, N.W.T., the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, as well as records of the Anglican Church of Canada, Toronto. For further information on these collections, the reader is referred to web sites that can be found under ‘Links’. In rare instances, the collection includes abstracts of documents from other sources. The reader is reminded that our intention is to add to this collection as time and resources permit.

Obtaining Original Documents

Please note that this database contains only abstracts of documents. It does not contain the full texts of any documents, these being the property of the archive in question. Readers wishing to see the complete record or obtain copies of these documents are referred to the archive from which the record is taken. We cannot, under any circumstances, provide copies of the documents abstracted in this database. Researchers are welcome to come to the School of Social Work, University of British Columbia, to view and work with this collection. Before doing so, you must contact us. Photocopying, however, is not permitted. Documents that were obtained under the former Access to Information Act are not included in the database.

How were these documents collected and why were these particular documents chosen?

The National Archives of Canada – in fact, all the archives used to compile this database – contain a wealth of material. For example, in the case of the NAC, more than a thousand cases of material were examined in putting together this database. The collection is not an abstraction of every document in the record groups and series examined.

Materials were chosen using the following method. First of all, a thorough and pre-existing knowledge of Canadian Arctic history was required. The finding aids of the National Archives of Canada were examined. It was decided, in the case of the record groups in question, to do a complete search of all materials as the finding aids provide descriptions that are not adequately precise to determine whether or not the files in question might contain relevant material. This decision – to examine entire record groups – was a fortuitous one, as in some cases, valuable materials were uncovered that would not otherwise have been recognized from the descriptions found in the finding aids.

A case of materials – or an interim box – contains separate files, each dealing with a different administrative topic. Often, depending on the topic, many files – each one being a continuation of the other – dealt with a particular topic (i.e. ‘Housing for Eskimos’). Files were examined with regard to a particular topic, commencing with the oldest file and starting at the back of the file where the very first entry is found. The file was gone through and each entry examined. The assumption made was that each file or series of files ‘told a story’. The self-imposed question used to determine which documents were identified for duplication was: “What are the key and essential documents required to tell this story in the most relevant and complete manner possible?” As the reader went through the file, s/he flagged documents that appeared to answer the above question. Having completed a file or series of files, the process was repeated, taking into consideration what was now known in its entirety about the file(s). The flagged documents were either confirmed or removed, new documents that now appeared to be more relevant and important than was determined in a first pass through the record might now be added, etc. For example, sometimes multiple copies of documents are in the files and it may be that early drafts are important in telling a story about a controversy brewing within the administration. The documents thus chosen tell, we believe, the most complete stories possible from a survey of the record(s) in question.

This research is ongoing, but was conducted commencing in 1987. Most of the research and retrieval was conducted by Frank Tester, School of Social Work and Family Studies, University of British Columbia, with additional work being done by Peter Kulchyski, Native Studies, University of Manitoba, and Paule McNicoll, also of the School of Social Work and Family Studies, University of British Columbia.

How abstracts were created

The abstracts found in this database contain certain standard information (see ‘How to use the database’). Abstracting a document does involve considerable judgment. We were concerned with capturing, as succinctly as possible, the content and focus of the document in question. Abstracting was done with this in mind. Research assistants were given instruction and practice in writing abstracts and this work was spot-checked in relation to documents being abstracted, from time to time. The process has taken many years and has involved a number of research assistants. Before being put on the web, the database entries were checked, verified, often rechecked and edited in order to ensure that the reader has a clear and complete idea of the content. The keywords noted, were critical in compiling this record.

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Nunavut Social History
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Tel: (604) 822-3447

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