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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 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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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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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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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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