Native American Protocols Forum (August 12, 2010)

Minutes from Forum on Protocols for Native American Archival Materials
August 12, 2010
SAA Annual Meeting
Washington DC

Combined notes of Keara Duggan and Karen Underhill


Terry Baxter welcomed forum attendants and provided background on the Protocols and SAA’s involvement in the Protocols. Introduced Dr. Kimberly Christen, Shawn Lamebull


Kim Christen introduced herself and provided information on her project at Washington State University- The Plateau People’s Web Portal, which recently added new groups (including the Umatilla, Yakima, Coeur d’Alene, Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, and two communities not yet live on the site).  Christen noted that this project pre-dates the Protocols, although it can offer an example of implementation of some of the best practices recommended by the contributors to the Protocols.

Christen thinks of the PPWP as digital repatriation and realizes that this term can get fuzzy. Digital repatriation does not just mean burning a CD and giving it to a community. One needs to consider the social, cultural, ethical, political, and legal systems that exist for knowledge management within a community and use those systems to plan digital repatriation.  Digital objects pose challenges, such as easy reproduction and distribution.

PPWP grew out of Christen’s work with the Waramungu community in Tennant Creek, Australia.  Missionaries had provided digitized documentary materials on CDs.  This Aboriginal community needed a knowledge management system that implemented cultural protocols (i.e. men’s business and women’s business) and that also had ease of use. The end result was the Mukurtu Wumpurrarni-kari archive  The content only lives in Tennant Creek . . . looks like it is online but only works on local server in the cultural center.  Viewing, reproduction, and dissemination of materials that belong to the Waramungu community are based on local protocols.  The archive is expandable and adaptable and therefore reflects their culture and social system.

Christen described the “two click mantra”—nothing should require more than two clicks to do or undo to ensure that Waramungu community members could easily use the site.

At WSU the Plateau Center for American Indian Studies expressed interested in a project involving collaborative curation. Universities had materials belonging to tribal communities in the area and those communities to provide access to people on the reservation. Tribes did not just want access to a mass of information digitized online. Tribes wanted access and some control. They wanted access to the metadata to add context; however, community members did not want to throw out metadata that archivists had created.   Keep existing metadata but add a community perspective.

Christen articulated the three main principles guiding the project: respect, recognition, and responsibility.

Christen and her colleagues needed to know how information was circulated in particular communities (who sees material, who decides) and also to recognize and respect that there are different standards for open access. In many archival circles, open access is the de facto ideal, but there is a different cultural frame that says that open access does not always serve the community good. The PPWP communities wanted to question the value of putting all materials in the public domain. Universities then had a responsibility to balance the ethical concerns and professional responsibilities of archivists with the concerns of tribal communities for cultural protocols.  Consultation around technology, content, and description slows things down but ensures an opportunity for equal decision-making.  PPWP personnel also tried to incorporate Native American cultural principles into every step of the work.

The PPWP has been developed over the last two years. PPWP is an interactive archive and content management system that allows the tribes and cultural institutions to co-curate and co-manage web materials.

The picture of the Columbia River provides a unifying image for the site.

On the backend of the website, each user is assigned an admin level-depending on affiliation with a tribal community, institution, academic community, etc.

The site uses Dublin Core. The institution maintains all 15 elements for the metadata.  The tribe can then decide to check and include any, all or none of these elements. The institution meets their standards and the tribe meets theirs.

The process starts by inviting tribes to WSU to look through materials pulled as a representative sample. Shawn Lamebull makes the initial selection. The tribe comes and chooses the content—both want they want and what they do not want. If the tribe does not desire open access, it simply does not go online. WSU still offers open access but a researcher has to come to WSU to find the material instead of locating it online. Staff then upload the materials and the Research Assistants on the project add the tribal affiliation (you can choose more than one tribal affiliation) and assign information in the nine categories that the tribe has selected (lifeways, natural resources, religion, etc). These categories can be changed by tribes at any time on the back end. The tribes cannot change the institutional metadata and institutions cannot alter the tribal metadata. WSU sets everything as open access as a public institution. Tribes can designate their own materials as open or restricted.

Protocols exist for sharing are male only, female only, elder only (sacred), children restricted; open to all, certain tribes, affiliated tribes, my tribe only.

Tribal members can add content or traditional knowledge (tribal catalogue record and traditional knowledge record)—videos, audio, metadata and comments. Which helps to generate more information both for tribal communities and institutions.

Christen believes archivists can use the Protocols for Native American Archival Material as a guide. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Retrospectively, she can see that the PPWP has used the Protocols as guidelines—some and not all parts. The Protocols are not a gateway drug . . . slippery slope.  People are not going to take all of your stuff. The same fear happened when NAGPRA passed, but it has been about conversation more than repatriation.  We need to reframe these relationships.

12:57pm-1:12 pm

Shawn LameBull, enrolled member of the Yakima nation, introduced himself.

When he started working on the project, he wanted all of the tribal materials back—didn’t understand why archivists wanted to keep all “my stuff.”

Lamebull consulted the SAA Code of Ethics and looked at access for answers. “Archivists strive to provide open access….”  The SAA code of ethics allows restriction for cultural sensitivities, privacy, and confidentiality. He thought this fit perfectly with the Protocols. How many Native People do you see in your archives?  We have to think about the federal policies that have separated Native People from their communities. We also need to consider the economic situation of many Native People and then consider what it means to have open access by having materials in libraries or archives alone. Why are you maintaining archives if not to provide access for it?  Lamebull never understood why collections bear the name of the donor or creator (i.e. why is the McCorter Collection not called the Yakima collection- it’s all about control and ownership). Native American epistemology is usually not on equal footing but projects like the PPWP help to correct this inequality.

The Protocols should not be used across the board, with all tribes in the same way. Instead they need to be adapted to each community, each project. They should encourage conversation. Closed by thanking Terry Baxter, Robert Leopold, Jennifer O’Neal, Michael Hallman (WSU) and all of those at WSU and the tribal communities who have supported this project.


NMAI has been a partner institution of PPWP.  Jennifer O’Neal asked for a round of applause for Kim and Sean. NMAI has provided images from the Smithsonian collection to the PPWP so that tribal members can add information that we all need. It is a perfect win-win situation where both the tribal communities and the Smithsonian gain valuable information. NMAI is very thankful that this kind of project is going on. It is a perfect example of the Protocols in action.


Jennifer O’Neal opens the conversation up for questions.

1:15pm (speaker did not introduce herself) Would it help sell this to the other SAA members if you talk about the improved measures that I’m sure you’ve found, such as more publications as a result of increased access or other increased numbers?

Jennifer O’Neal responded.  I think that is a good idea but a lot of what is gained from this process is qualitative, not quantitative.

Kim Christen agreed with Jennifer O’Neil and also added that this project has been going on long before the Protocols.  She understands that SAA may not take the Protocols in their entirety and adopt them. But people will be able to see the value of adopting some of the Protocols. What do institutions gain? Information.

Jennifer O’Neal added that it is an uphill battle to get SAA to endorse the Protocols but just because they are not adopted does not mean that you should not use them. Not everything will be applicable. The Protocols are not step-by-step directions; they are guidelines.

Shawn LameBull stated that the PPWP shows that it is no longer a zero sum game- it is win-win.


Christian Dupont from Atlas Systems wants to know if creating the category system in PPWP (9 cultural categories as identified by communities to augment inadequate Library of Congress Subject Headings) was a valuable exercise and was it valuable to the project?

Shawn LameBull responded. I don’t make any decisions for the tribe. We have a tribal contact who makes those decisions, and I am not a tribal leader- political, religious or otherwise. Dr. Christen was the one who lead the categories system.

Kim Christens responded.  The categories system was important because we came up against the Library of Congress headings and no one wanted to use those. We tried to make the categories flexible. Categories were fine as long as the tribal communities could decide on the categories. I encouraged tribes to create categories that are broad enough that they could be adopted by other tribal communities and that is why the process took a few months.


Dan Michelson from NYU asks how applicable some of this is to other cultures and is there any danger in another circumstance, in which you do not have such a democratic process, of biasing the record?

Kim Christen responded that the record is already biased. She is also working to take the Mukurtu project and create a system that can be adapted by many different Indigenous communities around the world including the Masai, Zuni, etc. This tool allows you to have many layers of knowledge, which is an improvement on the one scholar voice that determines truth and the story. This tool allows the communities to make decisions on the ground.

Shawn LameBull added that Kim Christen and he did not cherry pick who they would work with or how the community would make decisions about content. We do not make those judgment calls—it has to be organic. Realize that as a scholar you don’t know anything when you go into a native community. Shawn Lambull recognized Alex Merrill.

Kim Christen added that there is already bias in the archival field because of Library of Congress headings and the solution to that has been crowd sourcing (flickr comments, etc.). Unlike crowd sourcing, in PPWP you can add comments but only the tribes can change the tribal metadata.

Unidentified speaker.  Will there be any workshops on how to implement the Protocols?  Jennifer O’Neal responded.  Keep asking!


Jennifer O’Neal closed by encouraging further discussion and asked everyone to visit the updated Native American Roundtable website and attend the 2011 Annual Meeting (the third and final forum on the Protocols).