This is part of the conference “Building Partnerships Between Archives and Indian Communities,” held at the American Philosophical Society (APS) in Philadelphia, May 2010.
A Federated Future: Exploring Partnerships Between Cultural Institutions
How can federated searches can be realized on a national, local or internal scale? This discussion focuses on the technical dimensions of archival data storage and retrieval, and how technology can integrate the knowledge of Native elders and help build digital libraries in indigenous communities.
The main presentation was on Omeka, a free, open source online content management system that allows scholars, museums, libraries, archives, and enthusiasts to create complex narratives and share rich collection, according to its Web site.
Omeka powers the award-winning Bracero History Archive, a project to tell the stories of the Mexican guest workers in the Bracero Program of the 1940s-1960s.
“With Omeka, Native Americans wouldn’t need to create their own digital infrastructure,” said Tom Scheinfeldt, Omeka’s executive producer and the managing director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, which is partially funding Omeka.
“Physical objects may never go around, but digital objects are infinitely replicable,” Scheinfeldt continued. “Omeka could be criticized for not having archival standards, but it’s a whole lot better than what’s out there. This leads to comparative scholarship, easier discovery, and with Omeka(mu), for multiple users, can keep stewardship local.
“Thanks to digital formats, things can exist in multiple uses and places. This is a better way to tell the world traditions. We want […] a way to put objects into the APS workflow for possible preservation.”
Currently APS uses Archivist Tool Kit for its collection, Content DM for individual items and XTF for re-creating subject guides. But APS agreed that Omeka would be a powerful tool.
“Omeka would work great for tribal leaders to save their own digital images and form relationships between repositories for long-term preservation,” said Richard Shrake, APS’ assistant librarian for technology and security.
Listen to songs, folkloric stories and the last speaker of Wampanoag dialect on the APS Native American Sound Recordings page.
“We have 1,200 hours of recordings, which are most in need because many are endangered languages,” Shrake added. “We also have recordings on R-DAT (digital mini-cassette tapes), reel-to-reel tapes and wire recordings.”
Larry Aitken, the tribal historian of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in northern Minnesota, also endorsed the technology.
“This sharing of knowledge wasn’t available to use before. It brings wisdom keepers and elders together,” Aitken said. “We couldn’t pronounce dictionaries and handouts. Now the Turtle Mountain [Band of Chippewa Indians] are learning their own language. Eventually we can study, write and use our own language.”
“We have been neighbors for 500 years, but you weren’t listening to us,” Aitken added. “Now APS has opened its doors. We have been waiting for this for a long time.”