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Big plans for priceless Indigenous audio and video archive purchased for $1 in Edmonton

WATCH ABOVE: An Edmonton man purchased a massive collection of Indigenous films and audio tapes for just $1. His plan is to turn it into an priceless digital archive. Margeaux Maron has the story.

It’s the kind of video that transports you back in time. A four-minute film beginning with aerial footage of a 1974 powwow west of Edmonton is just a small fraction of the 900,000 hours of video and audio tape acquired by Bert Crowfoot.

Part of a liquidation sale three decades ago, the Government of Alberta flagged the collection for its historical value. The province purchased the tapes for about $80,000, according to Crowfoot, which was then sold to him and the Alberta Native Communications Society for just $1.00, plus a promise to keep it safe.

The collection has sat untouched through the decades, sitting in storage at three different buildings until now.

“What’s important in all these boxes is that those voices be kept alive,” Crowfoot said, “that their messages be heard by their family and also others.”

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Some of the tapes are well marked, while others are a mystery.

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Two were digitized and sent to Global News for this story, revealing the 45-year-old powwow footage from Enoch Cree Nation, as well as a video from Wilderness, a show sharing oral traditions hosted by Chief John Snow from Nakoda Sioux First Nation.

Crowfoot suspects there will also be footage from Indigenous produced talk shows, and said the Cree language spoken would be free from modern day slang, “a pretty good indication of the language that they spoke back in the 60s and 70s.”

In the age of social media and digital communication, Crowfoot hopes to preserve the footage for Canadians while still being sensitive to the permissions and wishes of the First Nations people who created them.

Crowfoot enlisted help from the director of the University of Alberta’s Sound Studies Institute, Mary Ingraham and the pair headed to Australia to learn more about MUKURTU. The digital platform is touted as a free, mobile and open source product “built with Indigenous communities to manage and share cultural heritage,” according to the website.

Ingraham estimates for every hour of content they digitize, there will be five to eight hours of additional documentation “so that someone looking for [something specific] can find it under a variety of different categories.”

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The dream is to create a platform that has mapped Canadian Indigenous people linking to accompanying digital media by year, band or family name.

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“If we were to fully fund it and work on it more full-time than we are now, [it would take] three to five years and easily a couple of million dollars,” Ingraham said.

“If this is to be my life’s work, I’m ready. I want to do this.”

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There’s no question of the significance of the collection, or the tremendous amount of work it would take to create the digital archive. Ingraham considers it a once in a career opportunity.

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