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By Frank Meness
This essay provides a brief overview of the historic Red and Black Series and Indian Treaties, Surrenders and Agreements. It highlights, from an Aboriginal perspective, their importance to contemporary historians and researchers.
This colourful description refers to the files created by the Department of Indian Affairs from 1872 to the present (2005). The Red Series encompasses all files that dealt with First Nations located east of the Manitoba-Ontario border. The Black Series encompasses all files that dealt with First Nations west of the Ontario-Manitoba border. Most of these files can be found in Record Group 10 (RG 10) at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). All First Nations had an Indian Agent who oversaw the operation of the community's business would regularly update the Department of Indian Affairs on their activities. The files created by the Indian Agent comprise the Red and Black Series.
Note: LAC has only those files that were transferred from the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Some files that form part of the Red and Black Series may still be in the possession of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.
These solemn documents are sacred undertakings between various First Nations and the Crown in Right of Canada. Treaties are the basis for the relationship that exists between the parties; they are ratified by the treaty's creator and protected by the Constitution of Canada. First Nations people believe that treaties signed by their leaders transcend time and place, and are therefore living proof of their relationship with Canada. They are built on a Nation-to-Nation basis, interwoven with respect, honour, integrity and trust.
Surrenders and agreements are equally important in documenting the historical relationship between the Crown in Right of Canada and First Nations. Surrenders, whether for lease or sale, usually deal with a cession of reserve land in return for compensation. Agreements are similarly land-based transactions, but may also include limits on traditional activities (e.g. hunting, fishing, gathering, etc.) or allow other users to occupy or otherwise enjoy certain rights on reserve lands or traditional territories (e.g. right-of-way, easements, etc.).
For a researcher to fully understand the significance of treaties, surrenders and agreements, it is essential that their original form be available for examination. Historically, these documents were not readily available to the people most affected by them. Moreover, it would often be a matter of interpretation as to what was actually written in the document.
In their proper context, the ability to review and study the original documents first-hand, will allow researchers -- indeed anyone -- to draw their own conclusions as to what the documents actually represent.
Having access to these documents via the Internet will allow more people to view and research these documents. A researcher living anywhere in the world will now be able to link to LAC to search for and download important documents from the database. This accessibility and efficiency will allow for greater use of the archival holdings, and will provide an opportunity for the general public to make use of Canada's vast historical record as it pertains to Aboriginal peoples in Canada.
The potential research applications are endless. Aboriginal people now have easier access to material that directly affects them. They can now use the Internet to do research that they previously had to do in person, incurring travel costs and other expenses. Moreover, the oral and written record can be complemented, since the material will be readily available.
The digitization of the Red and Black Series files and the Indian Treaties, Surrenders and Agreements is significant because it allows LAC to be more transparent and open with its holdings. This will enable researchers to gain a better appreciation and understanding of the historical relationship between Aboriginal peoples and Canada.