The future of the past: privileging indigenous knowledge production in archival representation
Guha Shankar (Library of Congress)
Paper short abstract:
A collaboration between an US indigenous community, federal agencies and academia foregrounds native knowledge in the public archival record. The initiative highlights the importance of inter-personal relationships developed over time in order to achieve the aims of ethical archival curation.
Paper long abstract:
Ancestral Voices is a collaborative, knowledge sharing initiative involving the Passamaquoddy Indian nation - a sovereign indigenous community in the northeastern United States, the Library of Congress - the US national library, and two digital platforms: Local Contexts - based at New York University, and Mukurtu, a content management system hosted by Washington State University. Through this innovative partnership, the historic, recorded cultural heritage of the Passamaquoddy people has been digitally recovered from obsolete wax cylinder recordings housed in the American Folklife Center's (AFC) Archives at the Library. Subsequently, the digitized recordings have been curated for access in the online environment by community members working in partnership with the scholars who developed these cutting-edge platforms as a means of centering indigenous communities' intellectual control and interpretive authority over their own cultural heritage. This presentation will examine the present-day initiative's late twentieth century antecedent - the historic Federal Cylinder Project - which was developed by the AFC as a means of making archival collections in federal and private repositories available to Native American communities to assist them in revitalizing and sustaining critical aspects of their cultural and social lifeways. The resonances and differences between the current and previous efforts illustrate how inter-personal relationships and institutional commitments to engage in ethical curatorial practices offer a corrective to the historical effacement of indigenous knowledge in research materials by placing indigenous voices and interpretations front and center in the public record.
Collaborative curation: towards a slow archives movement