During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Prompt: Energy. What gave you energy this year? What took away your energy?
Recently on twitter a few historians were discussing the personal impacts of working on projects involving historical trauma. Working on emotionally charged historical topics can be emotionally draining. In the past four years while being actively engaged with residential school archives and survivors I have seen and experienced the toll of working with archives relating to historical trauma.
Archival material relating to residential schools can be triggering and cause emotional distress. The
Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre archives is overseen by the
Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association (CSAA) and this group of
survivors is actively involved in the management of the archives. The
CSAA also serve as health support for the staff, researchers, survivors,
and community members who use the archives.
Having this type of health support available to visitors has been invaluable. I've seen people from all walks of life be emotionally touched by residential schools. Having built in mental health supports is essential in creating safe spaces to discuss historical trauma. It is also important to teach front line archival staff how they can support visitors who may be triggered by material they are viewing. Creating a supportive environment for viewing material relating to historical trauma needs include training staff to spot emotional distress and how to provide assistance when needed.
I've been lucky to be part of a workplace and community that is supportive of self-care. The
emotional impact of working on topics related to historical trauma is something
that isn't often discussed amongst historians, archivists, and other heritage
professionals. But talking about the toll of working with emotionally draining material is crucial. Personally, I've found taking a step back from the material, focusing on the importance of truth telling and the positive impact of connecting communities with their past helpful.