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Harlan Ingersoll Smith was born in 1872 in East Saginaw, Michigan. He joined the Geological Survey of Canada as head of the Archaeology Division (now part of the Canadian Museum of Civilization) in 1911. His early work concentrated on excavating archaeological sites in Eastern Canada, and on Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands. Returning to British Columbia in 1920, Smith began ethnographic fieldwork among the Bella Coola (including the Nuxalk, Carrier and Chilcotin communities), concentrating on their use of plant and animal materials, social organization and ritual traditions. Smith was also a pioneering ethnographic filmmaker and photographer documenting Plains, Plateau and Northwest Coast Aboriginal people. He wrote and published many articles throughout his career. Smith retired from the Canadian Museum of Civilization in 1936 and died in 1940.