Morley Hanson has witnessed the connections Project Naming can make.
Coordinator of the Nunavut Sivuniksavut (NS) college program in Ottawa, Hanson recalls an elder from Gjoa Haven visiting the nation’s capital for a Project Naming ceremony. A student flipped over one of the historic photos to reveal a breathtaking surprise.
“There she saw a picture of her father drum dancing that she’d never seen before,” Hanson says, adding that he’ll forever remember the look on her face.
Hanson, NS founder Murray Angus and NS students played a key role in the launch of Project Naming in 2002. Since 1998, they had periodically been looking through photos in the government archives. Students would take a couple of copies of old pictures home with them during the Christmas break to share with community members. As laptops and data storage advanced, they conceived the idea of scanning numerous old photos and circulating them in hopes of filling in information gaps. Some of the pictures show individuals whose names are unknown, or where locations and dates are undetermined.
Since 2002, more than 10,000 historic images have been digitized and thousands of Inuit have been identified. Many of the pictures come from various government departments and span more than a century.
The quest for names to match faces has been facilitated by social media, according to Alexandra Haggert, who manages Project Naming through Library and Archives Canada.
“We’re able to share a lot of information… We’ve got over 2,000 followers on those pages now. People sometimes share their own photographs, which is really special,” she says, adding that 30 to 35 per cent of Project Naming photos posted on Facebook and Twitter between March 2017 and March 2018 elicited key information from the public.
Library and Archives Canada’s full collection includes more than 30 million images. Although it’s not known how many of those depict Indigenous life, Haggert was confident in saying it’s likely tens of thousands of photos that would qualify. Private collections that continue to be donated to the archives could push that number even higher.
“Project Naming is definitely not slowing down,” Haggert says, adding that close family members who identify a relative usually get a complimentary print as a gesture of appreciation. “It’s really important, I think, to return that favour and say thank you for sharing the story of this individual with us.”
Hanson marvels at how the initiative has not only endured, but grown.
“We never would have anticipated anything like that,” he says. “Our interest was very small and focused… but they (Library and Archives Canada staff), to their credit, really have turned it into something. That’s quite remarkable, and technology has allowed it.”