Learning about and from the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials

A color photograph of the Peabody's library and a window looking out onto a red-colored tree outside.

I’ve been thinking about archives and recordkeeping in relation to Native American communities since our Collections Assistant Samantha returned from the International Conference of Indigenous Archives, Libraries and Museums, and shared some resources she learned about there. One of these resources was the 2006 Protocols for Native American Archival Materials, a series of recommendations for non-tribal institutions holding Native American archival material. These are relevant to the Peabody because the archives here contain records documenting excavations of Native American sites, and more recently, repatriations, as well as ethnographic photographs.

The Protocols were created by a group of 19 Native American and non-Native American librarians, archivists (including the then President of the Society of American Archivists), museum curators, historians and anthropologists, and address how institutions can be culturally responsive stewards of these materials and provide culturally appropriate services to the communities with which they are affiliated. Essentially, the protocols speak to the fact that Native American archival records (textual, photographic, audio-visual, etc.) should be treated with as much sensitivity as other cultural objects in a museum’s collection, and may require rethinking a non-Native institution’s policies about access, description and control. Consulting with affiliated tribes to let them know these materials exist, inquiring about any access restrictions or changes in the way materials should be preserved, and not artificially extending the life cycle of a documentary record upon request are examples of recommendations in the Protocols. While archival materials do not currently fall under the jurisdiction of NAGPRA, apparently some institutions, in the spirit of the law, have repatriated them.

A fundamental question to ask about archives and current recordkeeping practices in general is what records get kept, and by whom: historically, it’s been a question of control. The Protocols essentially advocate for non-Native institutions to let go of some of the control they have over Native American archival material, even if this might go against the usual policies of their institution. A contemporary example in the news resonates with this practice: the recent Canadian court ruling allowing First Nations people to destroy testimonies of the abuse they endured at boarding schools: read an article about this here. The destruction of these testimonies means that they will not survive in the form of documentary evidence, accessible to the general public, even at a center that is committed to social justice. However, the victims of this abuse now control their stories, rather than, as quoted in the article, the government “which caused or contributed to the horrible harms to those survivors in the first place.”

Canadian researcher visits to examine Strong collection

Dr. Kelvin using the 3D scanner to document a bowl

Contributed by Marla Taylor

Dr. Laura Kelvin, a post-doctoral researcher from Memorial University of Newfoundland, visited the Peabody in October.

Dr. Kelvin is contributing to the Avertok Archaeology Project, a subproject of a larger collaboration between Memorial University and the Nunatsiavut Government representing the Inuit of Labrador – Tradition and Transition.  This community-based archaeology program aims:

  • to locate, excavate and learn more about the original Inuit settlement of Avertok which underlies the present Hopedale community, and other nearby sites,
  • communicate findings to the community and use the research to facilitate knowledge transfer between youth and elders in Hopedale
  • to undertake a ground-penetrating radar survey of the Moravian Cemetery in order to identify the locations of all graves, enabling the community to properly mark and care for the cemetery.

During her visit to the Peabody, Dr. Kelvin examined the William Duncan Strong collection.  Strong was part of the Rawson-MacMillian Sub-Arctic Expedition that the Field Museum in Chicago sent to northeastern Labrador in 1927-1928.  In the early 1930s, Warren K. Moorehead (then Director of the Peabody) orchestrated a trade with the Field Museum to acquire approximately 350 artifacts from this expedition.

A drawer of material from Hopedale, Labrador.
A drawer of material from Hopedale, Labrador.

Dr. Kelvin spent a week photographing all of these artifacts – even 3D scanning some! – for inclusion in a developing community archive of archaeological and traditional knowledge of the Hopedale area.  She will record traditional community knowledge of the artifacts and provide local access to the images through the network.  Follow the project on their facebook page!

Dr. Kelvin using the 3D scanner to document a bowl
Dr. Kelvin using the 3D scanner to document a bowl

A Visit to Brookwood School

Contributed by Lindsay Randall

Packing up my car with artifacts always signals that I am off on an adventure!

Recently I traveled to Brookwood School in Manchester-by-the-Sea to work with the 4th grade classes. The students had recently begun learning about ancient cultures and how historians and scientists study them, particularly when there are no written records – or at least ones that we can read!

To help everyone better understand how archaeology allows us to investigate cultures of the past, I brought our mock excavation site. The faux dig is made up of painted canvas squares and real artifacts. It is based on a real archaeological dig that took place in Andover decades ago at a pre-contact Native American site, approximately 500 years old.

Working in groups, students rotated around each square or “unit” to look at the artifacts and to hypothesize what human activities were taking place. The groups were able to correctly identify which unit was similar to a kitchen, where the house stood, and where pottery was being made – proving that they had become experts in deciphering the clues left behind!

Curator of Education Lindsay Randall working with students to identify a fire pit and pottery making.