As part of your research, you may be asked to write a literature review. A literature review is an opportunity for you to critically analyze previous research and figure out larger themes and conversations.
A Review of the Literature on Indigenous Archival Practices
Since the 1970s, North American indigenous populations have demanded a reform of western-based archiving systems. Beginning with the rise of the “right to know” movement in the late 1970s (Carbone et al., 2021; O’Neal, 2015), indigenous grassroots organizations have demanded that archival material be moved from government archives to local ones. These activist groups have also demanded sovereignty over their archives and documents, challenging the white narrative of colonialism and imperialism (Carbone et al., 2021; O’Neal, 2015; Reyes-Escudero & Cox, 2017). In 1990, the United States government passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which authorized and promoted the return of indigenous materials to their communities. This led to the rise of indigenous archives, particularly since 2010 (O’Neal 2015; Herther, 2019). While these movements have established indigenous archives and archival practices, much work needs to be done.
Recent literature on indigenous archival practices points to two themes. First is how the archives influence cultural identity and memory (Catania, 2019; Ghaddar, 2016; Karuk Tribe et al., 2017; McCracken, 2015; O’Neal, 2015). Second is the need for community participation in developing archives or changing archiving practices, giving them a level of sovereignty and ownership (Duarte & Belarde-Lewis, 2015; Herther, 2019; Karuk Tribe et al., 2017; Reyes-Escudero & Cox, 2017). These two themes are ultimately interrelated as indigenous persons attempt to continue to disrupt the practices of colonization that continue to plague the western archiving system.
Cultural Identity and Memory
It is a truth, recently acknowledged, that the history of colonization often focuses on the western, white perspective, erasing and eradicating indigenous voices and perspectives (Catania, 2019; McCracken, 2015). Archives play an important role in establishing this cultural memory, and influencing a cultural identity that focuses on white supposed superiority (Catania, 2019; Ghaddar, 2016; Karuk Tribe et al., 2017; O’Neal, 2015). This narrative negates the violence and trauma of colonization (Ghaddar, 2016; O’Neal, 2015). As Ghaddar (2016) notes “the incorporation of records by or about Indigenous people into the national settler archival repository has been crucial for the constitution of a settler historical archival memory (at the expense of an Indigenous one)” (pg. 5). The goal of indigenous archival practices is thus to challenge this white dominance of cultural identity and memory.
In destabilizing the colonial narrative, much of the literature suggests that a new definition of information is needed, one which challenges the Enlightenment emphasis on the written word (Catania, 2019; Duarte & Belarde-Lewis, 2015; Karuk Tribe et al., 2017). Oral traditions need to be taken into consideration when developing new ideas of information (Catania, 2019; Karuk Tribe et al., 2017). For other collections, physical items must be included, although they need to be contextualized in order to illustrate their cultural heritage and significance (Johnson et al., 2005).
Literature on indigenous archives also notes that classification systems reflect western white values (Duarte & Belarde-Lewis, 2015; Hurley et al., 2017; McCracken, 2015). There has been a push towards developing a new classification system that reflects indigenous values and indigenous ideas of knowledge, such as the Brian Deer Classification System (Duarte & Belarde-Lewis, 2015; Hurley et al., 2017). Another suggestion is that collections are arranged thematically (McCracken, 2015). No matter how archives are classified, Duarte & Belarde-Lewis (2015) argue that indigenous communities must be involved in imagining, designing, and implementing systems that reflect their unique needs and values.
In dealing with cultural identity and memory, the literature often falls short on practical concerns. There is no specific plan on how to challenge the white narrative, particularly when many of these archival collections are being moved from public institutions to private ones. Indeed, many case studies have emphasized that indigenous communities are wary to allow outside researchers access to their materials (Duarte & Belarde-Lewis, 2015; Hurley et al., 2017; Karak Tribe et al. 2017; McCracken, 2015; O’Neal, 2015). Historically, many of these collections were held by the government, who limited indigenous access and control (McCracken, 2015; O’Neal, 2015). In gaining control over their collections, indigenous communities hope to promote their sovereignty by limiting access to their collections (Duarte & Belarde-Lewis, 2015; Karak Tribe et al. 2017). One solution is the rise of indigenous researchers, who will continue to do the needed research that challenges the colonial narrative (O’Neal 2015; Herther, 2019). However, that suggestion does not fully address national cultural memories that continue to promote white narratives.
Community Participation and Archival Practices
Another theme in the literature that challenges the remnants of colonization in the archives is to use communities in establishing archiving policies, particularly those regarding preservation and conservation. In allowing the community to participate within the development of these policies, indigenous communities will start to gain sovereignty over their archival material (Carbone et al., 2021; Duarte & Belarde-Lewis, 2015; Karuk Tribe et al., 2017; McCracken, 2015; O’Neal, 2015). However, if collections are held outside of the community, there must be ethical stewardship (Karuk Tribe et al., 2017; Reyes-Escudero & Cox, 2017). The literature argues that indigenous archival practices must a) respect indigenous culture and tradition and b) highlight indigenous voices (Duarte & Belarde-Lewis, 2015; Herther, 2019).
One idea for indigenous archival collections and stewardship that respects indigenous culture is the use of digitization and digital archives (Duarte & Belarde-Lewis, 2015; Herther, 2019). This practice would allow the local communities to preserve material goods in ways that reflect their cultural heritage, while still providing access to these items. Moreover, digital collections would control who has access to these items, allowing the indigenous communities sovereignty over their heritage.
While the literature addresses the importance of working with the local communities, being adaptable to community needs (Carbone et al., 2021; Hurley et al., 2017; Johnson et al., 2005; McCracken, 2015), it does not address the complexities of such projects. The literature often does not address diversity within the local indigenous communities. Of the literature surveyed, only Catania (2019) discusses the need to balance the needs of various persons, being careful to avoid a power structure. Each person comes with their own unique background and values, which could disrupt the process of archival preservation and conservation.
Another unanswered question is that of sustainability. Unless associated with a federal archive, community indigenous archives face funding concerns (McCracken, 2015; O’Neal, 2015). Moreover, there is no set standardization for the conservation and preservation of indigenous items, leading to scrutiny over how well these materials are being preserved (Johnson et al., 2005; McCracken, 2015; O’Neal, 2015). McCracken’s (2015) study on materials relating to the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre illustrates how local communities gained control of the previously held government resources on the school. However, the program was community driven with little funding or training. Thus, the question remains as to whether these projects can continue long-term.
Indigenous archiving practices are continuing to develop. Research on this topic emphasizes the importance of community involvement in order to challenge the white cultural narrative that continues to haunt North America. However, within this research, there are several questions that are left unanswered. While promoting indigenous sovereignty is important, the literature does not address how limiting access to these collections will overturn the colonial narrative. There are also concerns about how these community activities will be sustained and maintained in the midst of limited funding and training. Unfortunately, these questions remain unanswered and demand further scrutiny.
Carbone, K., Gilliland, A. J., Montenegro, M., Lowry, J., & Sutherland, T. (2021). Rights in and to records and recordkeeping: Fighting bureaucratic violence through a human rights-centered approach to the creation, management and dissemination of documentation. Education for Information, 37(1), 3–26.
Catania, A. (2019). Re-conceptualizing Oral Culture Collections and Archival Practices. Provenance: The Journal of the Society of Georgia Archivists, 35(2), 45–70.
Duarte, M. E., & Belarde-Lewis, M. (2015). Imagining: Creating Spaces for Indigenous Ontologies. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 53(5/6), 677–702.
Ghaddar, J. J. (2016). The Spectre in the Archive: Truth, Reconciliation, and Indigenous Archival Memory. Archivaria, 82, 3–26.
Herther, N.K. (2019). Digitization Provides Access to Native American Archives. Information Today, 36(1), 18–20.
Hurley, D. A., Kostelecky, S. R., & Aguilar, P. (2017). Whose Knowledge? Representing Indigenous Realities in Library and Archival Collections. Collection Management, 42(3/4), 124–129. https://doi.org/10.1080/01462679.2017.1392805
Johnson, J. S., Heald, S., McHugh, K., Brown, E., & Kaminitz, M. (2005). Practical Aspects of Consultation with Communities. Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, 44(3), 203–215. https://doi.org/10.1179/019713605806082284
Karuk Tribe, Hillman, L., Hillman, L., McLaughlin, A., Harling, A. R. S., & Talley, B. (2017). Building Sípnuuk: A Digital Library, Archives, and Museum for Indigenous Peoples. Collection Management, 42(3/4), 294–316.
McCracken, K. (2015). Community Archival Practice: Indigenous Grassroots Collaboration at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre. American Archivist, 78(1), 181–191.
O'Neal, J. R. (2015). 'The Right to Know': Decolonizing Native American Archives. Journal of Western Archives: Vol. 6 : Iss. 1 , Article 2
Reyes-Escudero, V., & Cox, J. W. (2017). Survey, Understanding, and Ethical Stewardship of Indigenous Collections: A Case Study. Collection Management, 42(3/4),