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Archive for the ‘Native Americans’ Category

This post is by guest author and Archives Student Assistant, Alexis Scalese ’22

October 11th, 2021 was the celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the so-called United States. Indigenous Peoples’ Day centers the lives, stories, cultures, and diversity of experiences Indigenous peoples hold. 

Banner reading "You are on Nonotuck Land, Everyday is Indigenous Peoples' Day"

In conjunction with the display of an Indigenous Peoples’ Day banner of Frost Library created by Carley Malloy ‘22 (Citizen Band Potawatomi), I was asked to put together an exhibit celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day using books and printed material from the Kim-Wait/Eisenberg (KWE) Collection of Native American Literature. This was my first exhibition so I was really excited! 

Mariah Leavitt, who is the Preservation Specialist and supervisor of student staff members, guided me through the process of exhibiting materials from Archives and Special Collections. Before I selected books and other printed materials, Mariah suggested that I think of a theme or story I wanted to share with my audience. I originally thought about doing an exhibit about Native humor, but my theme shifted once I came across a beautiful book titled Between Earth and Sky: Legends of Native American Sacred Places by Joseph Bruchac.

Cover of Between Earth & Sky by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Thomas Locker

The book struck me because of its visuals and the incorporation of Land on the cover. I carefully opened the book and skimmed the text: poetry, paintings, and stories about the Land were prevalent. This book resonated with me because, in my Pueblo, Land is very much part of the stories we tell as it is the reason for our livelihood as Indigenous Peoples. With that said, Bruchac’s book, Between Earth and Sky, shifted the exhibit from Native humor to sharing different materials that illustrate the different ways Indigenous peoples tell stories about their personal and communities’ experiences. 

 

Text and illustration from Between Earth & Sky by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Thomas Locker

After deciding on an exhibit theme, it was time to select materials from the KWE Native American Literature collection. I knew I wanted to include Earth and Sky and the super awesome card game, Cards Against Colonialism display. Once I pulled these materials from the shelf, I began to physically browse and sift through the file cabinets and shelves that hold materials from the KWE Collection. While it might have been better to use the Five College Catalog to look up the exact location of material (which I encourage people to do), I could not remember the names of books I had in mind, only a mental image of the covers. With that said, the Five College Catalog is a very comprehensive tool for searching for materials, however, yielding a search with keywords like “Pretty yellow cover” is not possible. I enjoyed physically searching through the archives. It was a great experience because I was able to connect with the materials by touching them rather than looking at them through their catalog entry. 

After selecting about 20 materials, I narrowed my selection down to 9 materials that fit the exhibit’s storytelling theme and were visually appealing. Once I selected my materials, I took my cart of materials to the Archives and Special Collections office space and drafted the label for the exhibit. 

Image of plate formerly used in Valentine Dining Hall featuring a design of Lord Jeffrey Amherst chasing an Indigenous person

The next day, I took my cart to the first-level of Frost where Mariah and I began the process of assembling the exhibit. Mariah and I disassembled the previous exhibit which celebrated Amherst College’s Bicentennial. The previous exhibit that showcased many aspects of Amherst College’s history including plates from Valentine Dining Hall which featured Lord Jeffery Amherst chasing an Indigenous person. Deconstructing the previous exhibit allowed me to reflect on the act of removing anti-Indigenous material and replacing it with Indigenous stories. I think this was a moment that I will hold and reflect on as I continue my interests in archives.

After removing the materials from the Bicentennial exhibit, Mariah went downstairs to retrieve the book cradles and exhibit ‘furniture’. When she came back, we began arranging together. Mariah and I both agreed that Deer Woman, a comic book with assorted promotional items, and Cards Against Colonialism had to be spread out to show how one may interact with the materials behind glass. After Mariah and I spread out the different cards from both texts, we began to place the books on the shelves, arranging them in ways that would grab the viewer’s attention. I wanted to balance out the two yellow books: Land of the North Carolina Cherokees and Yellow Woman and spent time rearranging the books. These yellow books were originally placed on the middle shelf, but I noticed my eyes were drawn to the middle shelf because of the warm yellow tones. Mariah then placed the two yellow books on the top shelf and it felt balanced. With the intriguing printed material on the bottom shelf, and the yellow books on the top, my eyes were drawn to all shelves. 

Photograph of completed book exhibit for Indigenous Peoples' Day

Setting up this exhibit was such a wonderful experience. It was so interesting to see the processes that go into creating a display. I learned that the visual element of exhibits was very important, especially in regards to cover art. Understanding the importance of the visual in curating an exhibit allowed me to reflect on my own biases and preferences. As I mentioned earlier in the post, Joseph Bruchac’s book Between Earth and Sky resonated with me the most because of my Pueblo’s worldview which may differ from other communities’ worldviews. I say this to reflect on the biases I hold and to state that exhibits are not created in a vacuum, they are created through our own experiences and worldviews we each hold.    

I learned a lot through this process and I will take this experience with me as I continue to learn more about the world of archives. Finishing the exhibit left me with some questions and thoughts to carry in the future: How can myself and others interested in archives and museums address the colonial history of exhibiting Indigenous materials in our exhibition processes? What words can we use that are not objectifying? For example, words like “material”, “curation”, and “display” limit the agency of the stories which are living.  With more experience and curation practice, I hope to think of ways to address these questions and be in conversation with others.

Alexis Scalese ‘22 is enrolled in the Pueblo of Isleta with familial ancestry to Pueblo of Laguna. She is an American Studies major and pursuing a Five College Certificate in Native and Indigenous Studies. She is interested in incorporating Indigenous Knowledge systems and Tiwa Pueblo concepts of relationality into archival and museum practices. 

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Indians of All Tribes 1

November 20 of this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Native takeover and occupation of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. Native activists took advantage of a clause in the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie that all retired, abandoned or out-of-use federal land should be returned to the Native people who once occupied it. Alcatraz closed as a federal prison in March 1963 and was abandoned by the government by 1964. On November 20, the first boat full of Native activists arrived to take possession of the island; they would remain on Alcatraz until forced out by the federal government on June 11, 1971.

Solidarity Rally

The Archives & Special Collections holds a wide range of materials both from the time of the occupation and retrospectives and other later publications. A selection of these items is on display on Frost Library A-Level through the end of the semester to mark this important anniversary.

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This blog post is a slightly edited version of a talk I gave last Friday to our regional professional organization, New England Archivists. We have a one-day meeting in the fall, and this year it was held at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. Our theme for the meeting was ethics in archives, and each of the nine presenters discussed collections or events that dealt with ethical challenges. 

Like librarians and doctors, archivists have a code of ethics that guides our work. You can read ours here: Society of American Archivists: Core Values and Code of Ethics for Professional Archivists. Shared discussion and consideration with colleagues is an important way for us to develop and learn as professionals, especially about ethical questions, which are always matters of judgment.


Describing Archival Collections—Ethical Considerations

It’s hard to say no to your boss, especially when it’s your first job as a professional archivist. Reprocessing the

Frederic Brewster Loomis (AC 1896) Papers

took far more of my time and labor than either of us expected. Negotiating this collection and its ethical demands was both personally and professionally challenging. Looking back now, nearly a year later, I find that I can better trust my own ethical judgments and see more vividly the violence inherent in overly “neutral” or “objective” descriptive practices. (more…)

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AlcatrazisnotanIsland picture

Native American poet, activist, and performer John Trudell died earlier this week. Obituaries and tributes can be found online in publications ranging from Indian Country Today to the New York Times. We have several works in the Archives & Special Collections by and about this remarkable man.

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Most of my research into our Native American literature collection has focused on the very earliest publications from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but the majority of our  recent acquisitions have been of newer books. When we state that our goal is to document as comprehensively as possible the full range of publications by Indigenous writers of North America, that includes everything from obscure pamphlets of the nineteenth century to books for children published in the last decade. I was just about to head to the stacks to shelve a handful of freshly cataloged books when I thought I ought to share a handful of these items with the world.

Rabbit's Snow Dance

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Today marks the end of my three month research leave from my daily duties in Frost Library. I have spent some of my time away digging through the holdings of other repositories, including the Library Company of Philadelphia, The American Antiquarian Society, the Rare Books Division of the Library of Congress, New-York Historical Society, and New York Public Library. There are still many other collections on my list — my goal is to personally inspect as many copies of Samson Occom’s Sermon as I possibly can, a project that will take much longer than three months to complete.

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Christmas came early to the Archives & Special Collections when we received two boxes of books by Native American authors from Amherst College alumnus Peter Webb (Class of 1974) just before we closed up shop for our holiday break. There are many exciting items in this very generous gift, including copies of some of Charles Eastman’s books in their original dust jackets, but this item eclipses all the others:

Samson Occom. A Sermon... (1772)

Samson Occom. A Sermon… (1772)

Hmmm…a piece of an old newspaper? (more…)

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The last time I wrote about detective work in my job, I mentioned “authority work” and linked to the Library of Congress’ explanation of what it entails. Here’s another example, from earlier this week.

I began to catalog these two recently-purchased pamphlets from the 1940s:

Navajo Life Series: Primer and The Little Turtle, early mimeographed versions from 1942 and 1943.

Navajo Life Series: Primer and The Little Turtle, early mimeographed versions from 1942 and 1943.

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Cool Thoughts on the Consequences to Great Britain of American Independence (London, 1780)

Cool Thoughts on the Consequences to Great Britain of American Independence (London, 1780)

The title for this week’s blog is adapted from this 1780 pamphlet by Joseph Galloway, one of dozens of such publications available for use in the Archives & Special Collections. While we don’t claim anything like the comprehensive coverage of the published debates around the American Revolution available at places like the American Antiquarian Society, we do have a respectable teaching collection.

Between these examples and the eighteenth-century manuscripts in the Plimpton French and Indian War Items and the Lord Jeffery Amherst collections, researchers can gain insight into the tumultuous decades between the 1750s and the close of the American Revolution in 1783. [Note that many items from the Jeffery Amherst Collection are now available online, and digitization of that collection is ongoing.]

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A page from this volume.

A page from this volume.

There was some celebrating back in early May, when we completed the cataloging of the 1,397 titles in the Younghee Kim-Wait/Pablo Eisenberg Native American Literature Collection. Thankfully, no one got Gatorade poured on them, as had been threatened. I thought I would share in this post a little bit of the detective work that the last few titles required, and suggest questions that may be worth further research.

At first glance, a collection of poetry, stories, and art created in 1969 by students at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) certainly looked as if it were a one-of-a-kind manuscript. Indeed, a note from the book dealer had called it “a unique collection.” Closer examination revealed that the text was printed (probably by silk-screening), although some of the artwork may have been done by hand before the printing. With no title page on our copy, I searched WorldCat in several different ways before I felt confident that there are at least two other copies of this work in libraries, one at the New Mexico State Library, and one at UC Davis. I suspect no copy has an actual title page, and this can lead to different libraries accidentally cataloging the same work in different ways. The copy at UC Davis was given a title based on the first poem in the book…which can be a valid choice according to cataloging rules, but sometimes is confusing for researchers.

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