Indigenous materials research guide: Special Collections and Rare Books

Cover of E. Pauline Johnson's Legends of  Vancouver

Looking for archival materials or primary sources related to Indigenous individuals and communities in British Columbia? Start your research here!

Special Collections and Rare Books (SCRB) is home to a number of archives, journals, monographs, and other resources which relate to the Indigenous individuals and communities in British Columbia (B.C.) and Canada. Some of the material is available online.

First Nations have lived in the area known as B.C since time immemorial, with archaeological records reflecting the presence of First Nations people on the land for over 10,000 years. They developed their own societies, cultures, territories and laws. Prior to European colonization and white settlement, between 80,000 and 250,000 Indigenous people lived in villages and communities spread across B.C. First Nations in B.C. and their languages are among the most diverse within Canada. Within the province we know as British Columbia, there are over 200 First Nations, and 30 languages, with 60 dialects spoken.

SFU is located on the unceded, shared, current, and traditional territories of multiple Nations, including the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), q̓íc̓əy̓ (Katzie), kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem), qiqéyt (Qayqayt), q̓wa:ńƛəń (Kwantlen), Semiahmoo, and scəẃaθən (Tsawwassen) peoples.

SCRB is located on lhuḵw’lhuḵw’áyten, “‘where the bark gets pe[e]led’ in spring”— the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) place name for the area that was formerly Barnet Mill, and today is known as Barnet Marine Park, at the base of Burnaby Mountain. In modern usage this name is often used to refer to all of Burnaby Mountain.

Learn more about SCRB's Indigenous materials. Each entry below provides a brief description of the materials, links to archival finding aids, Library Catalogue records, SFU Digitized Collections, or links to resources outside of SFU Library.

Why are some materials "unprocessed"?

The work that archivists do in preparing materials for research use is called “processing.” This involves:

  • identifying and describing materials
  • making the materials discoverable by creating finding aids (like these pages), database records, and other tools
  • rehousing materials in archival-standard enclosures (like acid- and lignin-free boxes and file folders)

Because we want our users to know we have relevant holdings to their research, we list and selectively provide access to our unprocessed collections.

Interested in exploring an unprocessed collection? Contact us as early as possible so we can discuss details.

Archival collections

Robert Bringhurst fonds

Extent: 4.56 m of textual records, photographs, and other material
Archival finding aid: MsC-154

Robert Bringhurst was born in California and grew up in Calgary, Alberta and Salt Lake City, Utah and eventually settled in British Columbia. He studied literature, linguistics, philosophy and poetry in the US and in Canada. He published several works on typography and book design. In addition, Bringhurst has written widely about First Nations art, story, and culture, chiefly about the Haida people of coastal British Columbia. He collaborated with Haida artist Bill Reid on the book, The Raven Steals the Light (1984), and with photographer Ulli Steltzer on The Black Canoe: Bill Reid and the Spirit of Haida Gwaii (1991), which received the Bill Duthie Bookseller's Choice Award.

The fonds consists of correspondence, manuscripts, notes, articles, and promotional materials created or accumulated by Robert Bringhurst over the course of his career as a typographer and writer. The majority of records were created in 2000 or later.

Indigenous Media Arts Group (IMAG) fonds

Extent: 3.3 m of textual records and other material
Archival finding aid: MsC-209. Part of this collection has been digitized and can be browsed at IMAGeNation collection.

The Indigenous Media Arts Group, or IMAG, was a Vancouver based non-profit organization founded in early 1998 to encourage and facilitate the promotion, development and dissemination of Indigenous media, arts and culture. The group grew out of the amalgamation of the First Nations Video Collective and the former First Nations Access Program at Video In Studios. Founding members included Dana Claxton, Cleo Reece, Zachery Longboy, and T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss and membership was comprised of local media makers. IMAG's activities included organizing the IMAGeNation Aboriginal Film and Video Festival, a festival that was held annually in Vancouver from 1998 to 2006, and a traveling film festival that was held in rural communities throughout British Columbia (Prince Rupert, Duncan and Enderby) in 1999 and in 2005. The group also facilitated workshops and training programs in media and arts administration and operated a resource centre for Indigenous people to access information regarding film and video making, media arts, cultural theory and media literacy. The group never received operating funding and functioned from grant to grant. By 2007, key individuals had left the organization and, without an operating grant, the group disbanded the same year.

The fonds consists of materials generated by the operations of the Indigenous Media Arts Group, including administrative and financial records, publications, correspondence, meeting minutes, grant applications, teaching materials, festival schedules and guides, publicity materials, press clippings and records relating specifically to the IMAGeNation film festival, including films submitted for the festival, and films created by IMAG staff and students. The fonds contains festival posters and photographs from festivals and other events.

E. Pauline Johnson collection

Extent: 0.5 cm of textual records ; 9 photographs
Archival finding aid: MsC-175  

Emily Pauline Johnson (also known in Mohawk as Tekahionwake) was an Indigenous writer and performer who became popular in the late-19th and early-20th centuries in Canada. Her father was a Mohawk hereditary clan chief and her mother an English settler who immigrated to the United States as a child. Johnson began composing, performing and publishing prolifically at an early age. She was notable for poems and performances that celebrated her Indigenous heritage, developing a stage persona that, in the first act, incorporated many of her family's traditional Mohawk cultural artifacts. For the second act she would change into modern dress and recite her works of Victorian themes.

The collection consists of photographic images and printed materials relating to the life and death of E. Pauline Johnson. Some of the material is associated with her sister, Evelyn Johnson, but the provenance and nature of compilation is largely unknown. SCRB also holds over 130 editions of Johnson's published works in their general rare book collection.

Hartmut Lutz collection

Extent: [ca. 100 audio recordings]
Archival finding aid: MsC-206 [unprocessed]

Hartmut Lutz is professor emeritus and former chair of American and Canadian Studies: Anglophone Literatures and Cultures of North America at the University of Greifswald, Germany. He is founder of the Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, a research centre for Canadian and American literature studies. Over the course of his career, much of Dr. Lutz’s research has focused on Canadian culture and Indigenous literature. He was a recipient of the 2003 John G. Diefenbaker Award by the Canada Council for the Arts. He spent a year in Ottawa editing the autobiographical writing of Dr. Howard Adams, a prominent activist for Indigenous rights in the Prairies, and compiling a book on the history of contemporary Indigenous Literature. In 2013, Dr. Lutz was awarded the Certificate of Merit for outstanding contributions to the development of Canadian Studies by the International Council for Canadian Studies.

In 2018, Lutz donated the Hartmut Lutz Collection of Indigenous Literature (more information below), over 750 books by Canadian Indigenous authors and on Indigenous subjects. In addition to the publications that comprise the rare book collection, there were ca. 100 audio recordings that make up the archival collection. These recordings feature interviews, lectures, and readings by Indigenous artists and scholars spanning from the 1970s to the 1990s, including Thomas King, Joy Harjo, Russell Means, and Howard Adams. Many of these recordings were used in The People and The Text project, which aims to unite Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars through an online, open-source, annotated bibliography of Indigenous texts.

Eden Robinson fonds

Extent: 40 cm of textual records ; 2 photographs
Archival finding aid: MsC-104

Eden Robinson was born in 1968 on the Haisla Nation Kitimat Reserve in B.C. She grew up in the village of Kitamaat in Northern B.C. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing from the University of Victoria and completed a graduate degree in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia in 1995. Many of her publications were recognized in the literary world by being shortlisted, nominated or winning awards.

The fonds consists of records primarily reflecting Robinson’s career as a writer, spanning approximately from 1991 to 2018. These include drafts of several of her novels including Monkey Beach, Traplines, Blood Sports, Son of a Trickster, and Trickster Drift, correspondence with editors and other miscellaneous records.

Digital collections

Bill Reid Centre Collection
The Bill Reid Centre Collection is a collection of images that records the arts and architecture of the various First Nations of the Pacific Northwest, focusing on their many and varied artistic and material expressions. The records in the collection are images brought together in a vast mosaic of this remarkable tradition. It seeks to promote an appreciation and understanding of the art, culture, and history of Northwest Coast First Nations through the use of early explorers' drawings, sketches, paintings, and original photography.

BC Multicultural Photograph Collection at the Vancouver Public Library
This collection of photographs depicts the contributions of immigrants and First Nations peoples to B.C. The photographs feature significant events and activities such as the development of Vancouver’s Chinatown, the Chinese contribution to railroad construction in B.C., East Indians and the Komagata Maru incident, the fishing industry and Japanese Canadians, the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II, and the art, lifestyles, and working and living conditions of Indigenous peoples. There are also pictures of notable individuals. This collection is contributed by the Vancouver Public Library.

Northern Justice Society Bibliography
The Northern Justice Society Native Crime Bibliography contains references to a wide range of research, policy and program materials relating to "Native involvement with the criminal justice system in the U.S., Canada and Greenland." It also includes listings for comparative materials from Australia and Scandinavia as well as documents in related areas, including health and welfare, drug and alcohol use, jurisdictional issues and education.

Salish Weave Box Sets: Art and Storytelling
Funded by the Salish Weave Fund held at the Victoria Foundation, the Salish Weave Box Sets: Art & Storytelling is centred around highlighting the voices of the artists within the Salish Weave Collection Box Sets, following Indigenous research methodologies. In particular, this project’s goal was to look into art as pedagogy and storywork, as described by Q’um Q’um Xiiem in her 2008 book, Indigenous Storywork. The collection is recorded conversations between the artists, Ashley Edwards, and Courtney Vance. Within these conversations, artists share their influences, processes, what it’s like being a First Nations artist, and how art is a source of knowledge sharing. 

White Mountain Apache Collection
Digitized materials from White Mountain Apache Tribe in Arizona. The collection consists primarily of US Government documents and legal documents from the Apache Tribe related to their land claims and other issues.

Newspapers and journals

Aboriginal Voices 
Bi-monthly magazine showcasing Indigenous arts and culture, edited by Gary Farmer in Toronto during 1993-1999.

Quarterly journal of the Association for the Study of American Indian Literature (ASAIL).

Indian Affairs
Newsletter of the Association on American Indian Affairs, Inc.

Magazine published by Redwire Native Youth Media Society, a media and arts organization dedicated to Native youth expression and the Native Youth Movement. Redwire was the first Indigenous youth-run magazine in Canada.

Red Directions
Magazine published by Redwire Native Youth Media Society, highlighting traditional knowledge, educational and information resources, guidance, and community support amid poetry, prose, and illustration.

NARP Newsletter
Newsletter of the Native Alliance for Red Power (NARP), which published articles on Indigenous current affairs in Canada and the US and provided a platform for Indigenous peoples across Canada to oppose racism, sexism, and colonialism. The publication covered themes of Black Power, Red Power, and socialism.

Books and other published material

Hartmut Lutz Collection of Indigenous Literature

The Hartmut Lutz Collection of Indigenous Literature contains over 750 books by Canadian Indigenous authors and on Indigenous subjects, originally collected by Hartmut Lutz, professor emeritus and former chair of American and Canadian Studies: Anglophone Literatures and Cultures of North America at the University of Greifswald, Germany.

Other rare books

Special Collections and Rare Books is also home to a number of monographs about Indigenous people in Canada and the US. The following subject heading links will lead you to resources in Special Collections. Try your own search, or expand to include all of the library’s collections.

Please note that SFU library recognizes that the term “Indians,” used in subject headings such as “Indians of North America,” is harmful in its use outside of legal contexts. Although we currently maintain these headings to adhere to descriptive standards used by libraries worldwide, we and other Canadian libraries are working to replace them with ones that are accurate and respectful to Indigenous Peoples.

SFU Library is primarily using subject headings authorized by the Library of Congress and that institution is undergoing a slow process of modifying subject headings to reflect preferable terminology of the Indigenous communities. Thus, not all subject heading listed are yet changed to the preferable terms. Some records come with subject headings created by Xwi7xwa Library and authorized by LC as controlled vocabulary scheme known as the First Nations House of Learning (fnhl).

Other useful links: Beyond SCRB

SFU Library Indigenous Curriculum Resource Centre

The Indigenous Curriculum Resource Centre (ICRC) collects books, articles, websites, and audio-visual materials on Indigenizing curriculum and Indigenous pedagogy, in addition to post-secondary curriculum resources. These materials centre Indigenous approaches to teaching and learning, and support the work of Indigenizing and Decolonizing curriculum at SFU.  The ICRC collection policy provides more information on what can be found in the Centre.

The ICRC has two locations: an online collection, and a physical location on the 4th floor of the WAC Bennett Library. To read more about the design elements of the space, and collections see Doing the work in a good way: Information for instructors and course designers about the Indigenous Curriculum.

The physical items in the ICRC are organized using a locally modified Brian Deer Classification System, which is an Indigenous knowledge organization system.

SFU Library research guides

Need other resources beyond Special Collections and Rare Books, including current resources on this topic? SFU's subject specialist librarians create research and subject guides to recommend the best resources for your discipline, and the best search strategies, whether you are looking for books or searching specialised databases. Related subject guides include:

Reference works + websites