Thousand of historic Indigenous photographs now available online via Royal BC Museum website

Denise Titian, June 29, 2020

The Royal BC Museum has released 16,103 historical photographs to the public, including images from Nuu-chah-nulth communities. Pictured is Jessie Maquinna, wife of Napoleon Maquinna, who lived until 1965. (RBCM photo)

Victoria, BC — 

The Royal British Columbia Museum has made access to its Indigenous content photograph collection much easier with the launch of its online digitized photograph collection.

In the past, people had to go to Victoria to search the archives in person in order to find photographs with Indigenous content. In recent years there was a limited selection of photographs available in the online RBCM website but it was only a fraction of what was preserved in storage.

In mid-June the museum announced that it made available to the public 16,103 historical photographs depicting Indigenous communities, mostly from B.C.; some are from neighboring states of Alaska and Washington.

The photographs feature people, places and objects taken between the late 1800s and the 1970s.

“Indigenous peoples have a right to images of their communities and their families and through this database can access them no matter where they are in the province,” said Lisa Beare, B.C.’s minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture.

She went on to say that the work was part of the government’s commitment to reconciliation.

“Indigenous peoples have a right to images of their communities and their families and through this database can access them no matter where they are in the province,” said Beare, adding that she appreciates the repatriation department for leading this important work.

Digitization work on the collection began in May 2018 and ended in April 2020. Digitization greatly improves the ability of the museum to transfer high-resolution copies of the images safely to these communities while preserving the originals at the museum in perpetuity.

“At last, the majority of photographs of Indigenous communities from the Royal BC Museum collections are available to the public digitally, and the names of Indigenous individuals who appear in the photos are easily searchable,” said Prof. Jack Lohman, director of the Royal BC Museum.

While not all of the individuals in the images are identified, some have ‘verso’ scans, an index card of information about a particular image, and these are included with many of the photographs.

The museum’s Indigenous Advisory and Advocacy Committee has provided guidance on the release of materials and decided that some images will remain permanently restricted to the public.

“[S]ome scanned and digitized photos shall remain restricted, for legal and cultural reasons, and will not be publicly accessible. These reasons include copyright and/or licensing issues, the depiction of sacred events and/or sites or request that the text on the verso be kept private,” stated the museum in a press release.

In addition, the museum has been advised to adopt a process to quickly take down images that are deemed culturally sensitive.

To view these images, visitors can go to http://search-collections.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/Ethnology then type “pn” into the Catalogue Number field and click search.

There are 32206 scanned images in the collection. You may further narrow your search by typing the name of a nation or community in the description field.