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Timothy Powell: Building Relationships: Collaborative Projects Between the APS and Indigenous Communities. (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.

“Building Relationships: Collaborative Projects Between the APS and Indigenous Communities.”
Timothy B. Powell, Director of APS Native American Projects.

“This Mellon grant was initially for preservation. Many of these oral histories are being converted from R-DAT tapes to digital technology at an archival standard. An enormous amount of Native American languages are being digitized.

APS Native American Sound Recordings

Listen to songs, folkloric stories and the last speaker of Wampanoag dialect on the APS Native American Sound Recordings page.

“There’s a bright future with traditions being brought back to life, though we have to discuss protocols. This is a mutually-beneficial relationship. For language teachers, we can give these recordings back to them in digital formats for language preservation and cultural revitalization.

“One teacher told me, ‘When we speak our own language, we think in our own language, which makes that time connect with this time.’ There’s a sense of history, that even though these recordings are from 70 years ago, we can hear them better now and share them more easily and inexpensively.

Group of 10 Creek boys in school uniform, ca. 1880.

Group of 10 Creek boys in school uniform, ca. 1880. / J.N. Choate: APS Speck-Choate Photograph Collection.

“For example, the Mandan language currently has one fluent speaker, but we have recorded 237 hours of it. Access and preservation is more than conversion, because now you can tell the exact data. We also received a Getty grant to review the 110,000 Native American images at APS. Multiple archives should work together, [now] Native People could create their own exhibits.”

Q&A with Timothy Powell and Prof. Robert Miller
-Is there portable scanning equipment?
Powell: The Ojibwe work with the Minnesota Historical Society to digitize materials at a high quality, including Objibwe newspapers. Tribes have taped their own materials, should those go to APS? We do receive APS grant materials, for example Phillips Fund materials are deposited at the APS.

-When was the change from adapting to Native American languages to English-language assimilation?
Miller: English colonial rule was the big factor, I don’t know about French and Spanish rule. In the mid-to-late 1900s, schools still punished students for speaking the Native languages. Now, revitalization of language leads to healing from genocide, which has trans-generational consequences. The Bureau of Indian Affairs eliminated Native languages in 1868, and in 1885 required all communication in English. When materials are given back to tribes, they are given new life.

-What’s the protocol for listening to and obtaining materials?
Powell: Just call us, I can visit the reservations.
Miller: The Native American Advisory Board has established that tribes can have password-protected access, and to ensure respect – you don’t want to have videos pop up on YouTube with wacky music.


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Session 2A: A Federated Future: Exploring Partnerships Between Cultural Institutions (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.

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.

Omeka Logo

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.

Bracero History Archive

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.

APS Native American Sound Recordings

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.


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