Hupacasath Historical Digitization Project

Elders are a living resource for traditional stories, community anecdotes, land use discussions and an invaluable asset for language preservation. But once these living icons of another era are gone, their wisdom and words can be lost forever. Preserving that knowledge and personal insight is one of the goals of the Aboriginal Audio Digitization Program (AADP). Operated from within the Irving K Barber Learning Centre at the University of British Columbia (UBC) the AADP has been actively involved in preserving not simply the content, but the actual voices of First Nation elders, including those of the Hupacasath First Nation (HFN).

Many First Nations communities have in the past taken the vital first step of conducting interviews with their Elders, recording them primarily on analog audio cassettes. Some First Nation archives contain hundreds if not thousands of these recordings. Many times the original subjects of these interviews have passed on, but thanks to the recordings their voices and their personal perspectives continue to live on. However the fragile nature of analog tape coupled with difficulties in cataloging, storing and accessing these audio recordings means many of these irreplaceable tapes run the risk of being lost or forgotten.

The goal of the AADP is to convert these analog recordings into contemporary digital formats that can then be stored and readily retrieved using modern computer systems. “The program is an exciting component of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre’s Indigitization Program, which enables us to work closely with UBC stakeholders and First Nations partners to build skills and capacity in Aboriginal communities around access and preservation of culturally significant materials,” said Simon Neame, Associate University Librarian and Director of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre.

For the Hupacasath First Nation a total of 83 analog cassettes, representing some 240 hours of recordings were selected in the Fall of 2014 for this digitization effort. The final aspects of the program are expected to wrap up in April 2015. The audio tapes in the program contain interviews with elders about land use, and stories of Hupacasath legends passed on from generation to generation. The goal is to keep these stories in a format that more easily allows for the knowledge to be preserved for posterity.

“How the digital recordings will be used has not been determined, many of the people in the recordings are gone, and consideration for the wishes of their families and descendents has to be taken into consideration,” explained Jolleen Dick, Communications Coordinator with the Hupacasath First Nation.

“The recordings are probably not going to be made available through a public database, but could be used for those interested in studying First Nation languages, for land use and land claim issues and other possible applications.”

The efforts of the HFN and UBC’s Barber Learning Centre means that hundreds of hours of priceless recordings will continue to exist and be made available for the education and benefit of the community’s future generations. It is a legacy that could pay dividends for decades to come.