Renaming the Past, Reclaiming Their Stories: Indigenous Records at the South Peace Regional Archives

Photograph: Hobbema First Nations Family Group, ca. 1915. SPRA 0052.02-2002.57.01 Part of Field’s Studio fonds

The South Peace Regional Archives initiated a survey of the region’s holdings in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) call to actions to locate records within their holdings related to Indian Residential Schools. We found very few records related to residential schools, but we did find several records related to Indigenous people and communities in our region. We decided to expand the scope of our research to look for any records related to Indigenous peoples within our holdings.

Thanks to the efforts of staff and volunteers, we now have a small database of material to share. While we pursue avenues of access, we are sharing some of these images and documents.

For seven years, American born Clarence Field operated a photograph business from his studio in Grande Prairie. He often took the show on the road in an old Model T van. With the Depression reducing the interest in expensive studio portraits, Field’s closed his studio in 1929 and returned to farming. After he died two years later, his wife moved out of the area. Field’s collection of glass negatives were held by various family, friends, and neighbours before finding their way to the South Peace Regional Archives.

Unlike many photographs taken of Indigenous people, this family is largely identified: Michael Buffalo’s family from the Hobbema First Nations in Central Alberta, left to right: Bella, Mary (Nepoose) Buffalo, Margaret, possibly Peggy (Allard) Buffalo, Michael’s mother. It is unknown who originally commissioned these images and for what purpose. Similar images in the Field’s Studio fonds were printed as postcards, which suggests they were posed for commercial reasons. Whatever the original intent for the photograph, for descendants researching their history, images like these can help make important connections to their past.

We have a relatively small number of images depicting Indigenous peoples at the Archives. The disparity between Indigenous and settler records can somewhat skew our understanding of the history of the region. If you have any records you would be willing to share, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us at or 780-830-5105.

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