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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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