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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 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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