The Basil H. Johnston Archives at McMaster University are now part of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.

Johnston (1929-2015) was an Anishinaabe (Ojibway) author, linguist, and teacher. Widely regarded as one of the leading 20th-century North American Indigenous authors, he wrote about Anishinaabe traditions, language, and modern life.

Canada’s Memory of the World Register, created in 2017, showcases the diversity of the country’s significant documentary heritage, which spans from the land’s first settlement by Indigenous peoples to the present day.

“The addition of the Basil H. Johnston Archives to Canada’s Memory of the World Register is a deserved recognition of its distinguished contributions, and also celebrates the dedication of the McMaster Archives and Research Collections team to ensure that the archives of Aboriginal Canadians are preserved and accessible to all. the public,” said McMaster University Librarian Vivian Lewis.

Johnston’s personal archive includes his writings and translations, published and unpublished manuscripts, works of fiction, poetry, plays, and works of non-fiction.

Also included in this rich archive are documents related to Johnston’s experiences in the residential school system, as well as his research records on Indigenous land claims.

These textual records are supplemented by photographs and sound recordings, including recordings of Basil Johnston telling traditional Ojibway stories.

The archives relate intimately to the places that shaped his life, particularly the communities of Wasauksing and Neyaashiinigmiing (Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation) where he learned the Ojibwe language and stories that became the work of his life.

“Because the Basil H. Johnston Records record so many of the creation stories and place names of the Anishinaabe peoples, they are also, in a sense, a record of the vast human geography of Anishinaabemowin speakers – stretching from Quebec to the great plains. said Myron Groover, McMaster archivist and rare book librarian.

Johnston’s life passion was to share, record and teach Anishinaabe culture and language. He is the author of 25 books in English and five in Anishinaabemowin. He created audio programs to teach Anishinaabemowin, wrote for popular newspapers and periodicals, and had a career as a storyteller and Anishinaabemowin teacher at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Johnston was one of the earliest voices of Canadian Indigenous writing, making its way through the 1970s and paving the way for contemporary Canadian Indigenous writing talent. He wrote and recorded stories in Anishinaabe with the foresight to preserve his language.

“Basil Johnston’s contributions to the preservation of Anishinaabe history, culture and language in southern Ontario are extremely significant,” said Rick Monture, associate professor in the Department of English and Cultural Studies and member of the McMaster Aboriginal Research Institute. “He was a tireless educator and promoter of Indigenous thought and intellectual tradition.

“His archives are a real gift for Indigenous scholars and community researchers who can engage with his work and add to the legacy of his vision of a strong and vibrant presence of Indigenous teaching and learning in this country for decades to come.

Johnston, recognized as an elder and knowledge keeper within his nation and community, was personally involved in developing the protocols that govern access to archival materials. The collection will be used to support Indigenous studies at McMaster and beyond.

The archives are held at the William Ready Division of the Archives and Research Collections of the McMaster University Library.

“These documents are a direct testimony to an extraordinary life that reflects the worst and the best that Canada, as a place and as an idea, has brought to the world,” said Groover, who carefully curated the nomination. for Johnston’s records to be considered for the register. “They tell a story of erudition, resilience, weariness, hope and good humor. The archives are a significant and essential addition to UNESCO Canada’s Memory of the World Register.

Cody Groat, chair of the Canadian Memory of the World Advisory Committee, says Johnston has been an innovator in Anishinaabemowin preservation.

“The Canadian Commission for UNESCO and the Memory of the World Advisory Committee are honored to recognize the national significance of this collection which challenged the ideologies of cultural assimilation championed by the residential school system, particularly in the context of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages,” Groat said.

For more information about the Basil H. Johnston Archives at McMaster, visit the Archives and Research Collections website or email [email protected]

Visit Canada’s Memory of the World Register for a complete list of collections.