A summer student working for the McMurray Métis has uncovered a valuable cache of interviews with elders, their stories and memories preserved on computer hard drives thought to have been lost in the 2016 wildfire.
The McMurray Métis building burned to the foundation during the 2016 Horse River wildfire, and for years those who worked there thought that little, if anything, had survived.
But on Monday, a summer student who was cleaning out a box of old cords in the back of the new building discovered 10 damaged hard drives that had somehow survived the fire.
On those hard drives were hours of interviews with about 50 Métis elders, conducted for a book project from 2008.
When Madilyn Hite found the hard drives, some were so badly damaged she could see inside.
“I literally picked one of them up and ashes fell out,” she said.
But when she plugged the drives in, they worked.
The interviews were part of a project started in 2008, interviewing elders to collect stories for a book called Mark of the Métis.
“It’s important to remember everyone who’s passed away, and have their memories and cherish them,” Hite said.
Last summer, she and other members were hired to redo some of the lost interviews. They managed to complete about 30, but some elders had died since the original interviews.
One of the elders interviewed was Bertha Clark Jones, the late mother of McMurray Métis president Gail Gallupe.
“I didn’t have much of my mom on video,” said Gallupe, whose mother died in 2014. “So it’s just wonderful to see it. I didn’t know my mom actually had this interview.”
She said she almost cried when she found out about the interview, conducted in 2010.
“It’s almost like a miracle that they’ve resurfaced,” she said. “There must be some friendly spirits around helping us out. It’s invaluable.”
Gallupe plans to take the interview to her next family reunion to share with relatives.
“She looks so good and healthy and happy,” Gallupe said.
Gallupe said she has no idea how the hard drives survived the fire, but thinks they could have been stored in a filing cabinet.
“We knew that we had lost some valuable information, such as these videos,” she said.
The McMurray Métis will edit the interviews and put them up on its virtual museum. They will eventually be displayed in the McMurray Métis cultural centre.
Hite is also uploading the interviews to the cloud, so if there is another fire they won’t lose them again.