NAAR Blog [07/01/ 2014]: "Looking Toward the Future: Aboriginal Archives in the US and Canada" by Jennifer O'Neal

As you’re well aware, NAAR is committed to advancing and promoting the proper care and preservation of Native American archives through the support of the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials (see further details here) and we are grateful to those institutions and repositories across the United States who have endorsed and implemented the tenants of the document—as well as those who are considering their purpose or determining how to begin discussions with tribal communities who collections they house. In addition, as part of the development of the Protocols, the drafters looked to other indigenous and aboriginal communities in various countries for lessons learned and reciprocal education. Thus, in this vein we have reached out to our Canadian colleagues to begin conversations on how we can work collaboratively to develop further improved policies and procedures on both the care and preservation of indigenous and aboriginal archives, but how we can also assist these communities with establishing their own archives.

Last week I attended the Association of Canadian Archivists’ (ACA) annual meeting (June 26-28) in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia, and chaired a session titled Looking Toward the Future: Aboriginal Archives in Canada and the United States. The purpose of the session was to bring together experts, both native and non-native, from both countries to highlight both indigenous and aboriginal archives in the United States and Canada concerning recent protocols and guidelines developed to assist in the respective care and stewardship of these collections, as well as possible future collaborations that could occur between the two countries on this issue.

I began the session by highlighting the history of indigenous archives in North America, both in regards to collections housed at non-native repositories, as well as the struggle for aboriginal communities to develop their own archives. I detailed the impetus and development of the Protcols, as well as the ACA’s development of the Aboriginal Archives Guide, a 2007 document published to assist in the development of autonomous community-based First Nations/Metis/Inuit archives. The presenters (see below) then detailed their specific experiences with these documents, addressed the content and criticisms, highlighted case studies, and most importantly, proposed next steps forward between the US and Canadian Archivist on this topic, especially in light of the meeting’s theme of “Archivatopia.”

The speakers included:

Sherry Lawson (Ojibway/Algonkian), Administrator of Heritage Services, Chippewas of Rama First Nation
Jonathan Pringle, Curator of Visual Materials, Northern Arizona University
Patricia Kennedy, Retired Archivist, Public Archives of Canada/National Archives of Canada/Library and Archives Canada, Drafter of the Aboriginal Archives Guide
Raegan Swanson, Archivist, Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute
Kim Lawson (Heiltsuk), Interim Head, Xwi7xwa Library, University of British Columbia


Some highlights from the session include Sherry Lawson sharing experiences in her role in her community, especially B.C. (Before Casino!) and having so many responsibilities because they know that she is able to accomplish so much. She feels that it is most important to the community that they preserve the language and also ensure they the younger generation receive the training needed in the care and preservation of both the language and archives.


Jonathan Pringle PresentingJonathan Pringle then presented on NAU’s dedicated to and experience with the Protocols and he specifically “demonstrated how his repository has shown success with bridging the gap between archival professional ethics and cultural sensitivity.” He also compared and contrasted the ethics statements in SAA, ACA, and the Protocols. He then ended the session with some possible next steps, including collaborative work between SAA and ACA, including further educational opportunities about the Protocols to ACA, possible endorsement of the Protocols by ACA, and SAA NAAR contribute to future revisions of the AAG and provide reference to it for community-based archives. He has also posted a review of the session (here). Jonathan  reflected, “I was humbled to have been given the opportunity to present alongside Canadian and American colleagues–both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous–from diverse backgrounds who happen to share similar challenges. I hope that future collaboration with ACA and other professional organizations result in increased international education, awareness, and programmatic enhancement opportunities related to this important topic.” A copy of his presentation slides can be found here.

Patricia Kennedy then highlighted the experiences of developing and drafting the AAG in the early 2000s and how pleased she was to finally see it published in 2007. Raegan Swanson then detailed her experience with the guide and then specifically highlighted some gaps she sees in the document based upon her work, including basic policies and procedures and research access statements. Kim Lawson PresentingHer comments were very much appreciated and has given the drafters much to think about as they move forward. Kim Lawson then provided some very reflective statements and suggestions from her experiences drafting the Protocols and her viewpoints on the AAG. Kim concluded that the work is all about relationships and reconciliation and that we “must divest ourselves of the clutter of colonization.”

We then held a discussion with the audience on the topic and received some informative and useful feedback, including questions such as “what can we learn from one another [indigenous and non-indigenous peoples]?” and that the way forward is though face-to-face discussions to foster understanding and future successful collaborations. We will now move forward to determine what our next steps. This may include NAAR and other advocacy groups gathering together for a possible indigenous archives summit at the beginning of the next Association for Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums conference to be held in Washington, DC—tentatively scheduled for September 2015. As discussions progress we will keep the NAAR membership updated.

We would like to thank the ACA’s Special Interest Section on Aboriginal Archives for sponsoring this session, especially to Meaghan Buchanan, Leanne Arinson, and Krisztina Laslo. Thank you so much for your assistance and dedication to this session and initiative. We look foward to working with everyone again in the near future!.

Hayu Masi (Thank You),

Jennifer O’Neal

NAAR Immediate Past Chair
University Historian and Archivist
University of Oregon
joneal [@]