Tag Archives: digital repatriation

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 3: Digital Repatriation: A New Historical Era (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 3: Digital Repatriation: A New Historical Era
Because digital technology can be reproduced so precisely and transported so inexpensively, it has created exciting new possibility for moving materials from archives back into indigenous communities.

This session focused on two groups: Pueblo Isleta developing a traveling exhibit, and Pimachiowin Aki, a proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site in Canada.

Time Exposures

Time Exposures: Picturing a History of Isleta Pueblo in the 19th Century, is a traveling exhibit developed by Isleta Pueblo traditional leaders.

The Isleta Pueblo recently developed the photo exhibit “Time Exposures: A Photographic History of Isleta Pueblo in the 19th Century.” [PDF]

They faced the challenge of telling the history of the Isleta people from their point of view, without revealing information that would diminish the privacy or integrity of their lives, practices and beliefs, said Stephanie Zuni, from the Isleta Pueblo Cultural Affairs Office.

The exhibit of 300 photos is divided into: the cycle of the traditional year, the arrival of Americans and how it disrupted Isleta life, and examining the photographs themselves as products of white culture.

“We live as Americans in the outside world and connect with our ancestors in our village,” the exhibit guide says. “This exhibit is about the transitional period and way of surviving that defines who we are today — people living in two worlds.”

Pimachiowin Aki is a proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site, a partnership between four First Nations (Pikangikum, Poplar River, Pauingassi and Little Grand Rapids) and the governments of Manitoba and Ontario, Canada. Its boundaries would contain 40,000 sq. km of vast boreal forest, rivers, lakes and wetlands.

Pimachiowin Aki Map

Map of the proposed Pimachiowin Aki UNESCO World Heritage Site, a partnership between four First Nations and the governments of Manitoba and Ontario, Canada.

“The Poplar River Ojibwe are using APS photographs to preserve 40,000 acres of land, on the east side of Lake Winnipeg,” said Sophia Rabliauskas, spokeswoman for the Pimachiowin Aki Corporation.

“Developers wanted the land for logging and hydro-development, but the community was against it,” Rabliauskas added. “The elders knew we had been there for thousands of years, but we needed to document that. Archaeologists showed that we been there for 6,000 years.

“When we stand up for our rights, we are called ‘hostile’ or ‘in the way of development,'” Rabliauskas continued. “But we are preserving our history for future generations, saving ecosystems and giving a future for our children. Ten years ago, we didn’t have our customs, and now there is dancing and singing. The land gives us a way of life, language and teachings.


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Overview: Building Partnerships Between Archives and Indian Communities Conference at American Philosophical Society (APS)


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“Building Partnerships Between Archives and Indian Communities” was a conference held May 20–21, 2010 at the American Philosophical Society (APS) in Philadelphia. (Short URL: http://tinyurl.com/APS-Ind-Conf)

Larry Aitken Pipe Ceremony (2 of 6)

Larry Aitken, tribal historian for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, performs a pipe ceremony in the Jefferson Garden next to the American Philosophical Society on May 20, 2010.
Photo by Frank Margeson/APS.

The Mellon Foundation sponsored the conference, and also provided a grant that allowed APS to build a digital archive of endangered Native American languages, including 1,000+ hours of language materials from 54 indigenous languages, Miller added. APS also recently received a Getty Foundation grant that enabled the institution to review its collection of more than 110,000 images of American Indians and to digitize more than 1,000 images. APS worked with a Native American advisory board on both of these grant projects.

The conference “illuminated the ways that tribal and Indian interests can benefit from a new openness on the part of archives and museums, and demonstrated how modern-day Indian societies can benefit from collections held by institutions far from their communities,” writes Hon. Robert Miller, Chief Justice of the Grand Ronde Tribe and conference presenter, in the Indian Country Today newspaper.

Read more coverage in the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s article, “Trying to Save Vanishing Languages.” (also available as a PDF).

Opening Ceremonies
1) “Greeting,” APS President Baruch Blumberg.
2) “Welcome Song,” Elder Watie Akins, Penobscot Nation.
3) “Greeting,” Chief Glenna Wallace, Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.
4) “Prayer,” Elder-in-Residence Tom Belt, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
5) “Pipe Ceremony,” Tribal Historian Larry Aitken, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. Includes a Photo Gallery.

History of APS Native American Collection
1) “Introduction,” APS Executive Officer Pat McPherson.
2) “Native American Languages as a Core Tradition of APS,”
Regna Darnell, Director of the First Nations Studies Program at the University of Western Ontario.
3) “Preserving American Indian Languages and Cultures,”
Robert Miller, Professor of Law at Lewis and Clark Law School.
4) “Building Partnerships: Collaborative Projects Between the APS and Indigenous Communities,”
Timothy Powell, Director of Native American Projects at APS.

Conference Notes:
Session 1A: “Developing Protocols for Native American Materials.”
Session 1B: “Linguistics, Language Teaching, and Cultural Revitalization,” (Restricted Access).
Session 2A: “A Federated Future: Exploring Partnerships Between Cultural Institutions.”
Session 2B: “Viewing the APS Archives Through Indigenous Eyes,”
(Restricted Access).
Session 3: “Digital Repatriation: A New Historical Era.”
Session 4: “Where Do We Go From Here?”


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