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Session 4: Where Do We Go From Here? (APS Native American Conference)


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This is part of the conference “Building Partnerships Between Archives and Indian Communities,” held at the American Philosophical Society (APS) in Philadelphia, May 2010.

Session 4: Where Do We Go From Here?
We live in an historical era in which new possibilities have arisen for collaboration between archives, museums and indigenous communities. Yet, tremendous challenges lie ahead that must be addressed.

This session concerns the issues of technological resources for curatorship in indigenous communities.

“APS is here for preservation and as a repository,” said Martin Levitt, APS Head Librarian, “but we want to give the curatorial function to the tribes, which can be done with digital technology.”

But sometimes that it is not a simple process.

“Access is just as important as preservation,” said Guha Shankar, a folklife specialist at the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center. “Now that we’ve digitized the collection, what are the community resources for maintaining it?

Portrait of Zuni Children, ca. 1880

Black and white group portrait of Native American (Zuni) children, two girls and two boys, wearing traditional clothing; ca. 1880. Frank Speck/APS.

Shankhar used the example of the Zuni tribe, who wanted to use the recorded language files for cultural and linguistic education. But the Zuni did not have the IT specialists or digital resources to host the files on their own servers, and transporting the materials by CDs or DVDs presented issues of security and long-term preservation, Shankhar said.

Are you prepared to speak the language of the technogeek?” Shankhar asked. “To borrow a phrase from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, ‘Dammit Janet, I’m a folklorist, not a data management specialist!'”

One person who does speak the language of archives and technology is Kimberly Christen, an assistant professor at Washington State University’s Department of Comparative Ethnic Studies.

Christen has developed the Mukurtu Archive for the Warumungu community in Tennant Creek, Northern Territory, Australia, and is currently working on the Plateau People’s Web Portal, a similar online archival project developed with Washington State University and the three Pacific Northwest tribes of the Coeur d’Alene, Umatilla and Yakama. The open-source software could be adapted by any indigenous community.

Plateau Peoples' Web Portal

Plateau Peoples' Web Portal

“We have cultural protocols for viewing and distributing materials, based on the user’s gender, ritual and kinship and if the subject is deceased,” Christen said. The collection is categorized by five themes, and there are fields for both ‘Description’ and ‘Tribal Knowledge.'”

“Both museum and cultural standards can exist side-by-side,” she said. “It’s been 20 years since NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) passed, and the looting of national museums didn’t happen. Instead it led to negotiations. In the future, it will take curatorship to recognize the historical injustice to them (Native Americans), for preservation, circulation and repatriation.”


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Session 1A: Developing Protocols for Native American Materials (APS Native American Conference)


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This is part of the conference “Building Partnerships Between Archives and Indian Communities,” held at the American Philosophical Society (APS) in Philadelphia, May 2010.

Developing Protocols for Native American Materials
Because of the value of the 1,200 hours of endangered Native American language recordings, the APS is interested in making these songs, stories and linguistic studies available in digital form to strengthen language preservation and cultural revitalization. To do so will require the development of protocols, which we hope to develop with other cultural institutions.

Browse the APS digital collections of Native American Images and Native American Sound Recordings.

Spiritually the artifacts are alive,” said Larry Aitken, tribal historian of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. “Some historical societies have objects that were stolen, for example religious artifacts. Those things are so powerful, you need protection for you and your family.”

This panel highlights the larger collections of American Indian artifacts in U.S.

National Museum of the American Indian

National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. / Wikipedia

National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI)
“The museum has a collection of 825,000 ethnographic and archaeological items, spanning 1,200 cultures,” said said Jennifer O’Neal, the museum’s head archivist. “We have 12,000 audio-visual materials from North and South America, and a film and video center. We also have 325,000 images, which show how colonialism took away the life ways and traditions.

“The NMAI’s main goal is stewardship, of indigenous cultural property. We have a ceremony room for seasonal blessings of the collection and staff, we have received no problems with our strict protocol, we restore and distribute media like films and then repatriation and we have recognition of knowledge keepers.”

Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center
“We have 300,000 hours of recordings, 400,00 photographs and several million pages of manuscripts,” said Judith Gray, the center’s coordinator of references. “Permission searches are changing – now researchers need the community’s consent. Protocols maintain a conversation with the communities.”

Smithsonian’s National Anthropological Archives
“For the Smithsonian, we carefully screen the materials then try to put up as many as possible until objection,” said Robert Leopold, director of the archives. “If materials are not available to scholarship, it is a loss to the historical record.”

Newberry Library’s D’Arcy McNickle American Indian History Research Center.
“Now our collection is too big to digitize everything,” said Scott Stevens, director of the center. “So we invite the community leaders to identify our collection’s most important holdings. Twenty years ago there was a fear that this would lead to evacuating the public collection, but those are completely unfounded.”


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