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Archives Subject Guide: Indigenous Collections

A.G. Chisholm fonds

Andrew Gordon Chisholm (1864-1943) was a lawyer in London, Ontario. He served as solicitor for Haudenosaunee peoples at Six Nations of the Grand River from 1910-1948. During this period, he assisted in recovering lands for this community valued at $300,000 and some $35,000 in cash. 

Chisholm’s fonds consists of correspondence and legal documents filed on behalf of Six Nations. His correspondents include other lawyers who acted as his agents in Ottawa; Six Nations councillors; Government ministers; and archivists. Legal documents include statements, memorandums, and petitions of right. There are also records related to Chisholm’s research to support his legal activities. This archive was donated to the Division in 2008 by Chisholm’s grandson, Peter Chisholm. View the finding aid for his archive here.

Dr. William G. Bensen Fur Trade Collection of Robert D.W. Band

The Dr. William G. Bensen Fur Trade Collection of Robert D.W. Band comprises 99 items — some of which include multiple discrete artefacts or parts — related to the operation of the fur trade in Canada. Items are dated from 1689 to 1892 and attest to the activities of major companies, including the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company, and smaller outfits such as McTavish Frobisher Co. and McTavish, McGillivray’s, and Co. Items in the collection attest to the involvement of Indigenous communities and individuals in the fur trade.

The collection was assembled gradually over the lifetime of Robert D.W. Band (1923-2013), a collector of Canadiana and fur trade material. Following his passing, the collection was purchased by Wynn Bensen in memory of her husband, Dr. William George Bensen. Wynn Bensen donated the collection to McMaster in 2018. View the finding aid for this collection here.

Everett James Case fonds

Everett James Case (1884-unknown) was an amateur collector who acquired artifacts relating to Indigenous communities in Southern Ontario, Mexico, Saskatchewan, southwest British Columbia, and Québec. His seed collection began with artifacts gathered by his father, Charles A. Case, but grew to include items acquired through purchase or trade. The collection includes over 800 artifacts; these are held by McMaster University’s Department of Anthropology. The Division of Archives and Research Collections only holds textual records and graphic materials, predominantly artifact catalogues. View the finding aid for this archive here.

First Nations Collection

The First Nations Collection comprises a small number of documents related to Potawatomi and Haudenosaunee peoples, as well as the sale of lands on Manitoulin Island following the signing of the second Manitoulin Treaty (1862). Record types include correspondence related to Potawatomi land claims; a copy of a band membership list from an unspecified community (originally 1867, though the copy appears to have been made in 1966); a copy of the US Act to create an Indian Claims Commission (1946); a single photograph of chiefs at Six Nations of the Grand River in 1887 (all named); and one “Notice of sale of lands on Manitoulin Island, Sheguiandah” from 1866. All accruals have been purchased by the Division. View the finding aid for the collection here.

Frank S. and Alfred E. Woods fonds

Frank S. Wood (1871-unclear) was an amateur collector of artifacts, especially those relating to Indigenous peoples in Southern Ontario. Wood’s collecting activities were continued by his son Alfred E. Wood. In 1973, the Wood collection, which comprises some 10,007 items, was donated to McMaster University. Artifacts are in the custody of McMaster University Department of Anthropology; the holdings of the Division of Archives & Research Collections consist of artifact catalogues, correspondence, and site reports. View the finding aid for this archive here.

Gisela Commanda fonds

Gisela Commanda (née Almgren) (1908-1993) was born in England. As a young person, Commanda heard Archibald Belaney (alias Grey Owl) speak. Belaney was an English writer and conservationist who spent much of his life in Canada; he frequently misrepresented himself as an Indigenous man named “Grey Owl.” Inspired by Belaney’s example, Commanda travelled to an American reservation for Indigenous peoples in 1939 and came to Canada the following year. Desirous of learning Anishinaabemowin, Commanda contacted Antoine Commanda, an Indigenous man who had been featured in a 1937 Grey Owl film. Commanda visited Antoine at Biscotasing, Ontario and married him in 1942. Following her marriage, Gisela Commanda gained “Indian Status” in Canada, despite not being of Indigenous descent. Though Commanda and her husband separated shortly after their marriage, Commanda would go on to live on a series of reserves in Canada, including Six Nations of the Grand River (1954-1957) and a reserve near Cardston, Alberta. When Commanda and her husband divorced in 1975, she lost status.

The fonds includes Commanda’s correspondence, autobiography and journal notes, photographs, and some of her artwork. View the finding aid for this archive here.

Gladys McAndrew fonds

Gladys McAndrew was a member of Christ’s Church Anglican Cathedral in Hamilton, Ontario in the mid-20th century. McAndrew participated for 20 years in the Women’s Auxiliary of the Anglican Church and the Dominion Dorcas, groups which focussed on supporting missionary work and fundraising for Indian residential schools. 

McAndrew was involved with the supply department of the Auxiliary, and in 1943 was appointed Secretary-Treasurer of the Dorcas. Her archive contains financial records from the Dorcas for the period 1943-1954. Record types include treasurer’s reports, financial statements, meeting minutes, receipts, and various appeals. These records provide detailed information about life at several residential schools, including the St. Barnabus Indian Residential School (Onion Lake) (later replaced by the Prince Albert Residential School) in Saskatchewan. View the finding aid for this archive here.

Grey Owl Collection

Archibald Belaney (1888-1938), alias Grey Owl, was a writer and conservationist who is best known for misrepresenting himself as an Indigenous person. Belaney was born in England; in 1906 he moved to Canada and began working as a guide and trapper in Northern Ontario. Soon after his arrival, he invented the persona “Grey Owl," and under this name he published four books about Ojibway culture and the Canadian north. His work was popular, and he would go on to complete several lecture tours in Britain and the United States. 

Belaney died in 1938. Soon after, the North Bay Nugget newspaper revealed him to be a settler. Grey Owl remains a controversial figure; his use of an Indigenous persona is part of a broader practice of cultural appropriation in which non-Indigenous individuals wear regalia or alter their appearance to perpetuate stereotypes about Indigenous peoples. The collection features five photographs, three of which are of Belaney’s wife, and two of which are of Belaney dressed as “Grey Owl.” View the finding aid for the collection here.

Harvey Feit James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement Collection

Harvey Feit (1941-) is Professor Emeritus in McMaster's Department of Anthropology. Throughout his career, he worked closely with Eeyou (James Bay Cree) peoples on various ethnographic projects. Feit was involved in the negotiation and implementation of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (1975), the first comprehensive land claim agreement between the governments of Canada, Québec, and Indigenous peoples since the early 20th century. 

As a result of Feit’s work with Eeyou communities and his own academic research, he acquired a set of records created by Cree government bodies and committees, as well as records authored by other organizations and governments involved in the implementation of the JBNQA. In 2019, he donated these to the Division of Archives and Research Collections. McMaster University Library recognizes the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee’s traditional and sacred connection with this collection. As such, McMaster University Library and Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute (ACCI) jointly administer access to this collection. View the finding aid for this collection here.

James E. Anderson Collection

Dr. James E. Anderson (1926-1995) was a medical doctor with an interest in archaeology. He held a teaching position in the University of Toronto’s Department of Anthropology, and in 1967 chaired the Department of Anatomy in McMaster University’s Faculty of Medicine. Anderson worked on many dig sites throughout his career, including the Bennett, Dawson, and Serpent Mounds burial sites (related to Haudenosaunee peoples). 

A small selection of Anderson’s papers was donated to the William Ready Division in 2011. Records in this donation are related to dig sites in Southern Ontario. View the finding aid for this archive here.

Richard Slobodin fonds

Dr. Richard Slobodin (1915-2005) was one of the founders of McMaster’s Department of Anthropology. His research was on Indigenous peoples in northern Yukon and northeastern Alaska, particularly Dene (specifically, Gwich’in) and Métis peoples. Two of his key publications were the monographs Band Organization of the Peel River Kutchin (1962, National Museum of Canada) and Métis of the Mackenzie District (1966, Canadian Research Centre for Anthropology). 

The archive contains copies of Dr. Slobodin’s publications; his field notes and diaries; research files and correspondence; and teaching notes. View the finding aid for this archive here.

Rutherford B.H. Smith fonds

Rutherford B.H. Smith (1877-1952) was an amateur archeologist from Mount Hope, Ontario. In the 1930s, Smith became interested in locating, cataloguing, and donating artifacts, the result of which was a collection of over 10,000 items. Smith excavated 64 sites within Wentworth County, including the Dwyer Ossuary in Beverly Township, and accepted artifacts from close friends and farmers. 

The bulk of Smith’s artifact collection remains with McMaster’s Department of Anthropology.; the Division of Archives and Research Collections only possesses textual records from Smith—predominantly artifact catalogues, correspondence, and newspaper clippings. View the finding aid for this archive here.

William Charles Noble fonds

William Charles Noble (1941-2009) was Professor Emeritus in McMaster’s Department of Anthropology; his research focused on Haudenosaunee and Neutral (Chonnonton) peoples along the western shores of Lake Ontario. Noble’s archive contains his own archeological field notes, photographs, maps, and archival research notes. Many of the artifacts related to Noble’s notes are held by McMaster University’s Department of Anthropology. View the finding aid for this archive here.

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