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remembering refuge

Between Sanctuary and Solidarity

Remembering Refuge: Between Sanctuary and Solidarity is an oral history archive highlighting the stories of people from Haiti, El Salvador, and Guatemala, who crossed the Canada-US border to seek refuge.

The borders between Detroit and Ontario, New York and Quebec sit on the lands of the Mwami, the Potawatomi, the Anishnabek, the Peoria, the Haudnesonee, the Huron-Wendat, the Mohawk, the St. Lawrence Iroquois, and the Abenaki.

You are hearing a conversation between elders Ateronhiata:kon (Francis Boots) and Kanasaraken (Loran Thompson) of the Kahniakehaka (Mohawk) Nation in Akwesasne. They are sharing stories about the Canada-US border that crosses through their territories.


How might a history of the Canada-US border, as recounted by people crossing it to seek refuge, change the ways we see and understand migration and borders today? At a time when the public is inundated with alarmist narratives about migrants and borders, it is more urgent than ever to focus on the experiences of people who have been displaced multiple times.

Remembering Refuge is an archive and multimedia site that centres the experiences of refugees as narrators of key periods of this border’s history. Through oral history interviews with Haitians, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans who crossed the US-Canada border between 1980 and 2018, we seek to draw out the “unofficial” stories of the border, ones not found in official archives such as government documents, media accounts, or the accounts of humanitarian workers.

These oral history interviews will be made publicly available, digitized in audio and some in video format. Educational teaching modules and resources will also be designed for secondary and postsecondary educators and learners. Remembering Refuge seeks to open up spaces for confronting difficult histories, foster critical engagement about borders and migration policies, and invite audiences to reflect on the politics of knowledge production and public memory.


Remembering Refuge is funded by the National Geographic Society. Research is also being carried out in partnership with the University of Lethbridge Alberta.

Oral history interviews will be carried out in the summer and fall of 2019. The open access archive and teaching modules will be launched in early 2020.

Details about the project are available in Spanish and French.

For more information, please contact rememberingrefuge at gmail dot com.



Haiti Earthquake Vigil in Little Haiti, flickr photo by Occupy Miami Photos shared under Creative Commons (CC-2.0) licence


why focus on the period between 1980 and 2018?

Between the years of 1980 and 2018, refugees crossing the north-eastern US-Canada borders (between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario; Plattsburgh, New York and Lacolle, Quebec) on foot prompted the Canadian and US governments to drastically shift each country’s asylum and border policies. However, these moments of ‘crises at the borders,’ as they are referred to by governments, are both shaped by and reflective of much longer timelines and interrelated histories of colonization and militarization across this continent.

why oral histories?

Storytelling through the oral history tradition remains a powerful means of education and public engagement. Oral histories “tell us about our pasts, inform the present and inspire the future” (*Chancellor and Lee 2016).

Recording oral histories and developing a counter-archive situates the perspectives of refugees as foundational rather than peripheral to history, or as public historian Mireya Loza says of this process, to transform experiences and memories into “enduring historical documents” (**Loza 2016).

*Chancellor, R and Lee, R. 2016. “Storytelling, oral history, and building the library community.” Storytelling, Self, Society 12 (2): 39-54.

**Loza, M. 2016. “From Ephemeral to Enduring: The Politics of Recording and Exhibiting Bracero Memory,” The Public Historian 38 (2): 23-41.