Two Weeks!

That’s pretty much all I have left in this semester, and I’m working (not too) furiously to wrap up all of the assignments I have to do.  Today I’m trying to finish writing my literature review, the subject of which is related to my summer internship!

I am looking at the literature that describes the ethical considerations and debate surrounding the acquisition, preservation, and access to Native American collections in institutional repositories and archives.  Historically, indigenous cultural materials were collected and described not by Native Americans themselves but by white collectors, anthropologists, historians, curators, etc, which has had devastating effects on Native American identity and cultural preservation in their communities.  There has been a call to improve the relationships between museums, archives, and repositories that house Native American materials and tribal nations to balance the needs of researchers and the “public good” with the needs of indigenous peoples.

While many people now sympathize with Native Americans and would argue in favor of repatriation, many archivists are faced with a conflict of interest. 

Professional standards, such as those posed by the SAA, dictate that they “promote open and equitable access to the records in their care within the context of their institutions’ missions and their intended user groups” (SAA Code of Ethics for Archivists).  Some Indian Nations would impose restrictions on certain materials according to age, gender, religion, or other variables, which some could interpret contradicts the mission of American archives.

I’m not going to lay out my entire paper in this blog post, but I did want to share an example of an archive I think has negotiated this line in a really positive way.  The Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal (http://plateauportal.wsulibs.wsu.edu/html/ppp/index.php) is a collaborative effort between the staff at Washington State University’s Libraries, Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections and a group of tribal administrators who contribute their own perspectives, interpretations, contexts, and content alongside that described by trained, professional archivists.  If you’re interested, read Kimberly Christen’s article, “Opening Archives: Respectful Repatriation,” published in The American Archivist.  It gives me hope.

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