Mtig bemaadzid / The Living Tree: Digital Archiving Through Film at MISHI

Archives Manitoulin Island Summer Historical Institute MISHI

Mtig bemaadzid / The Living Tree: Digital Archiving Through Film at MISHI
 Chelsea Reid, MA student, Dept of Art History and Visual Culture, University of Guelph
Edited by Dr. Carolyn Podruchny


Aanii. Niinsa Waazakone'ankwad'kwe. Chelsea Reid nindizhinikaz. Atimameksheng Anishnawbek Nookomis indoonjibaa, Migizi indodem. Hello. My names are Cloud with the Silver Lining and Chelsea Reid. My grandmother is from Atikameksheng Anishnawbek (formerly Whitefish Lake First Nation) and I have been told I am Eagle Clan. My father and grandfather are of European descent. I grew up in Sudbury, Ontario with my mother and younger brother. My connection to Anishinaabe practices and spirituality comes from my mother, who has encouraged me to connect with people and knowledge to better understand Anishinaabe history. I have also been inspired by my great uncle Arthur Petahtegoose, an Elder, Knowledge-Keeper, and member of the Traditional Ecological Knowledge Elders Group from Atikameksheng Anishnawbek. He works with Laurentian University sharing knowledge with students and has delivered political speeches on Parliament Hill on behalf of North Shore to protect the Earth.[1] Our family at Atikameksheng always welcomes us for family gatherings every year. Atikameksheng Anishnawbek has funded me through the entirety of my post-secondary education as an artist and art historian. I approach my research with as much love and respect as possible and would like to acknowledge the encouragement of my mother, my uncle Arthur Petahtegoose, Anong Beam, and Alan Corbiere, who have taught me that it is okay to not know, it is important to ask, it is good to learn, and that learning will help me move through life in a good way.

I practice artistic and cultural preservation through film to honour the people and communities that have made me who I am. Filming is a platform which allows people an opportunity to speak for themselves, and online film has a potentially infinite audience. While participating in the Manitoulin Island Summer Historical Institute (MISHI) at the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation (OCF) in June of 2018, I recorded talks throughout the week as videographer and then returned edited footage to the OCF for their archives.

Thinking about digital archives, I rely on Anishinaabe legal scholar John Borrows’ living tree approach, which describes a dynamic system that is living, breathing, and growing. The living tree is always sprouting, propagating, changing, shedding, and improving. Its roots are the cultural past, which grow in the present towards the future.[2] Borrows writes that “Our journeys through the world of ideas can take guidance from familiar, time honoured patterns. For example, Anishinaabe people often try to understand the future by remembering the past. Insight can be derived from such reflection because we often regard time as being cyclical. While we also view and experience time as linear, many of our most important teachings orient us towards a life that stresses recurrence.”[3] Time is both a matrix and a variable that encompasses the material world and is reflected within it. While recurrence is cyclical, there is a direct connection to the way in which the veins of a single leaf replicates the growth pattern of the branches and roots. The recurrence of patterns grows in synchronicity with the rings of a tree that reveal the yearly cycle in the same way that understanding our historical roots informs growth into the future. A tree has branches, which are like recurrences. Likewise, a digital archive fragments a metanarrative into complex and multifaceted branches of histories. These histories are always growing: being remembered, told, written, updated, and amended in infinite scales.


Chronologically, the roots are the past and the branches are the present growing into the future. The digital archive creates historical roots that grow through time as content is added.  In botany, a node is a point where branching occurs. In digital terms, a node can be thought of as a point of connection.[4] In the context of MISHI, the recording of the entire week contributes to the growth of their digital archive, highlights nodes and recurrences, and creates new shoots for future generations and community members to nurture knowledge, creativity, and Spirit.

Who is the digital archive for?[5] In what context is this work to be viewed? Who will have access to it? “The question of whose interests are served is central” to the definition of information sovereignty.[6] Properly attributing authorship can ensure information sovereignty when working with communities and contributing to positive growth. Information sovereignty, “rooted in self-determination and inherent rights,” [7] means creating recordings for, and working with individuals and communities so they retain power over their respective materials and imagery. Reciprocity should be the first concern, and audience the second to determine the path of a project. Recording the talks at MISHI is intended for Ojibwe Cultural Foundation (OCF) community members as an act of reciprocity from the scholars like myself who participated. Historical roots are local networks that create and inform collective understandings of cultural identity. In creating visual content for the OCF archives, I wish to contribute to preserving and sharing knowledge and identity. The content generated during MISHI comes from a network, or living tree, of community members and knowledge-keepers that are actively contributing to the ongoing growth and development of Anishinaabe history, culture, and spirituality.  

The seven days of MISHI 2018 were filled with speakers, events, workshops, and ended with pow-wows at Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory and Sheshegwaning First Nation. MISHI began with a talk by Anong Beam and Deborah McGregor: On Ethics and Respectful Research Protocols. Multiple speakers taught the participants about protocols for respectful behaviour during smudging, ceremonies, pow-wows, and visiting sacred spaces. Two artists spoke: Leland Bell and Travis Shilling. The last day we learned about quillwork and dyeing on birchbark with Darlene Bebonang and Myna Toulouse. Printmaker Jesse Purcell of JustSeeds brought exposed screens with one of Christi Belcourt’s Water Is Life design to make hand-pulled prints. Carolyn Podruchny, an Associate Professor at York University who was responsible for organizing and corresponding between the HIP Network (part of the Robarts Centre at York) and the OCF, arranged for subsidized accommodations and food throughout the week.

When I contacted the OCF to inquire about a research partnership, Anong Beam informed me that it is good practice to offer copies of your work to all organizations and individuals involved, and invited me to participate in MISHI 2018 to learn about ethics. I cautiously offered to film because I understand that some things are not meant to be filmed, and made sure to say that the information recorded would be at the discretion of those sharing it. After a correspondence with Carolyn and Anong, they agreed that it would be good to document MISHI through film so that it could be edited and returned to the OCF archives. Asking permission to record events, people, and places is always crucial. Every production needs release forms, which absolve the filmmaker of liability to represent the subject in any way they see fit, a historically problematic practice which is important to consider particularly in recording Indigenous and community-based content. I am grateful that most participants consented because they were open to contributing to the growth of the OCF archives.

The goal of using film as a medium of preservation during MISHI was to facilitate the preservation of expression of Anishinaabe voices. Filming enables people to represent themselves more accurately than through transcriptions and photographs. The preservation of voice, mannerisms, and tone convey meaning that cannot be captured though other mediums. While film-editing creates filtration, my intent is to represent the individual in the more accurate and best way possible, capturing the flow of an experience and providing context to the setting in which the talks have taken place. At the end of seven days, I recorded over 200 gigabytes of footage from nineteen talks averaging an hour each. My editing involved checking for continuity, audio synchronicity, colour correction, and title captions. I hope my recordings will contribute to the growth of the the living tree that is the OCF archives in a good way.

[1] TEK Elders Group. Accessed November 22, 2018.

[2] Borrows, John. Freedom and Indigenous Constitutionalism. 133. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016.

[3] Borrows, John. (2016). ”Physical Philosophy: Mobility and Indigenous Freedom” In  Freedom and indigenous constitutionalism. 22. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

[4] Mejias, Ulises Ali. Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World. xxii. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.

[5] Beam, Anong, and Deborah McGregor. "Ethics and Respectful Research Protocols." Lecture, MISHI 2018, Manitoulin Island, M'Chigeeng First Nation, June 2018.

[6] First Nations Information Governance Centre (FNIGC). "Pathways to First Nations’ Data and Information Sovereignty." In Indigenous Data Sovereignty: Toward an Agenda, edited by KUKUTAI TAHU and TAYLOR JOHN, 139-56. Acton ACT, Australia: ANU Press, 2016.

[7] First Nations Information Governance Centre (FNIGC). "Pathways to First Nations’ Data and Information Sovereignty." In Indigenous Data Sovereignty: Toward an Agenda, edited by KUKUTAI TAHU and TAYLOR JOHN, 139-56. Acton ACT, Australia: ANU Press, 2016.

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