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Decolonizing Education: Native Americans

This guide was originally created for the use of instructors and students in the reACT Decolonizing Education Experiential Learning Program funded by the 2022-2023 TLTC Curriculum Grants. Specifically: ARCH460; ARCH478; ARCH601; ARCH678; CHBE473; ENCH648


The United States Indigenous Data Sovereignty Network (USIDSN) indigenous data sovereignty is the right of a nation to govern the collection, ownership, and application of its own data. USIDSN's primary function is to provide research information and policy advocacy to safeguard the rights and promote the interests of US-based Indigenous nations and peoples (American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians) and peoples in relation to data.

Liew, C., et al. (2021) Digitized indigenous knowledge collections: Impact on cultural knowledge transmission, social connections, and cultural Identity. JASIST, Volume72, Issue 12, December 2021, Pages 1575-1592.  Digitized indigenous knowledge collections (D-IKC) brought about many benefits, including the surfacing of otherwise hidden or inaccessible cultural heritage. Concerns around digital access, digital competency, and responsiveness to cultural values need to be thoughtfully addressed nevertheless. Use of D-IKC had impact not only at an individual level but also at a social-community level. Several traditional cultural values related to D-IKC use that are not embodied in existing value-impact frameworks are highlighted. This research also found that the intersection and interactions among individual needs, cultural expectations, and norms and affordances around the digital information environments concerned were nuanced and multifaceted. These facets must be incorporated into the stewardship of knowledge collections. We also observed “digital knowledge sharing in the wild”—knowledge transmission that transpired and in some cases led to creation of knowledge resources that materialized outside the bounds of the originating repositories and institutions. Further studies into such self-organized knowledge transmission/sharing phenomena can lead to valuable insights to inform and shape the curation and design of D-IKC.

Duarte, M. (2020) "Of Course, Data Can Never Fully Represent Reality": Assessing the Relationship between "Indigenous Data" and "Indigenous Knowledge," "Traditional Ecological Knowledge," and "Traditional Knowledge". Hum Biol. 2020 Jul 9;91(3):163-178. Multiple terms describe Indigenous peoples' creative expressions, including "Indigenous knowledge" (IK), "traditional ecological knowledge" (TEK), "traditional knowledge" (TK), and increasingly, "Indigenous data" (ID). Variation in terms contributes to disciplinary divides, challenges in organizing and finding prior studies about Indigenous peoples' creative expressions, and intellectually divergent chains of reference. The authors applied a decolonial, digital, feminist, ethics-of-care approach to citation analysis of records about Indigenous peoples' knowledge and data, including network analyses of author-generated keywords and research areas, and content analysis of peer-reviewed studies about ID. Results reveal ambiguous uses of the term "Indigenous data"; the influence of ecology and environmental studies in research areas and topics associated with IK, TEK, and TK; and the influence of public administration and governance studies in research areas and topics associated with ID studies. Researchers of ID would benefit from applying a more nuanced and robust vocabulary, one informed by studies of IK, TEK, and TK. Researchers of TEK and TK would benefit from the more people-centered approaches of IK. Researchers and systems designers who work with data sets can practice relational accountability by centering the Indigenous peoples from whom observations are sourced, combining narrative methodologies with computational methods to sustain the holism favored by Indigenous science and the relationality of Indigenous peoples.

Carroll, S. (2020). The care principles for indigenous data governanceData Science Journal19.  Concerns about the secondary use of data and limited opportunities for benefit-sharing have focused attention on the tension that Indigenous communities feel between (1) protecting Indigenous rights and interests in Indigenous data (including traditional knowledges) and (2) supporting open data, machine learning, broad data sharing, and big data initiatives. The International Indigenous Data Sovereignty Interest Group (within the Research Data Alliance) is a network of nation-state based Indigenous data sovereignty networks and individuals that developed the ‘CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance’ (Collective Benefit, Authority to Control, Responsibility, and Ethics) in consultation with Indigenous Peoples, scholars, non-profit organizations, and governments. 

CFLA Truth and Reconciliation Committee Report & Recommendations, 2017. The Canadian Federation of Library Associations' (CFLA) Truth and Reconciliation Committee completed its report outlining a path forward for respecting Indigenous culture and increasing access to traditional Indigenous knowledge. The report makes ten recommendations to enhance experiences and opportunities for Indigenous peoples and researchers in Canada by decolonizing libraries and archives and their practices.  #5 Decolonize Access and Classification by addressing the structural biases in existing schemes of knowledge organization and information retrieval arising from colonialism by committing to integrating Indigenous epistemologies into cataloging praxis and knowledge management.

Right to Know

Right to Know, without an authoritative source to identify where relevant material is to be found, further rights, such as the right of reply, cannot be activated.  Materials relating to different Indigenous communities are fragmented across a range of organizations around the world. While individual organizations may have good knowledge of this material in their custody, there is no mechanism to connect these holdings and bridge this knowledge across organizational boundaries. Indigenous archival records in collections should be identified and prioritized for action as a component of truth-telling. Inter-organizational collaboration in the compilation of indexes and in facilitating access to dispersed records is a starting point to facilitate the Right to Know of Indigenous peoples and communities. -- The Indigenous Archives Collective (IAC).

Deloria V, United States and White House Pre-Conference on Indian Library and Information Services On or Near Reservations (1978) The right to know: a paper. Office of Library and Information Services, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington.

Krebs, A.B. Native America’s twenty-first-century right to know. Arch Sci 12, 173–190 (2012).

O'Neal, Jennifer R. (2015) ""The Right to Know": Decolonizing Native American Archives," Journal of Western Archives: Vol. 6 : Iss. 1 , Article 2. Available at:

Right of Reply

Right of Reply to Indigenous Knowledges and Information Held in Archives is the ability to challenge the depiction of individuals, objects, or events presented in records by providing a self-determined response to both the record itself and the metadata associated with it.

Collecting institutions have shaped and maintained records produced by colonial systems of administration and continue to play a role in perpetuating colonial paradigms that are inherently resistant to the needs and priorities of Indigenous peoples. For this reason, the Right of Reply is becoming increasingly important, and Indigenous peoples are asserting their rights to update, correct, critique, or enhance Indigenous knowledge that is held in collecting institutions.  These issues become even more pressing in digital environments were collecting institutions digitize archival records to make them accessible online. Emerging trends in data and technology use raise urgent questions about data sovereignty, copyright, Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property and repurposing of records and metadata which could potentially reiterate bias and incorrect information. -- The Indigenous Archives Collective (IAC).

Protocols for Native American Archival Materials

Native American communities are sovereign governments.  Tribes had their own traditional governments prior to the European invasion.  These governments maintain their own territories, their own laws, and their own legal restrictions surrounding cultural issues. Most Native American communities have federal recognition, while others hold state recognition. A number of federal laws in the United States specifically address both cultural and human rights of Native Americans and their communities.  While we share a common commitment to the preservation and dissemination of knowledge, archivists and librarians should understand and respect Native American rights and laws, which are recognized in the United States Constitution.

Society of American Archivists. Native American Archives Section (NAAS). Protocols for Native American Archival Materials (PNAAM). Establishes best practices for the culturally responsive care and use of Native American archival materials, particularly materials that are housed in non-Tribal institutions.

The Protocols build upon numerous professional ethical codes (Society of American Archivists, American Association for State and Local History, American Anthropological Association, and the Oral History Association); a number of significant international declarations recognizing Indigenous rights, including several now issued by the United Nations; and the ground-breaking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols for Libraries, Archives, and Information Services.

Ten Protocols

Access Policies for Native American Archival Materials, Case Studies, offers real-world examples of the ways in which contributors and their institutions have developed and/or implemented access policies for culturally sensitive Native American archival materials. Contributors are encouraged to write about the challenges and successes of developing and implementing these access policies. Following SAA’s endorsement of PNAAM as an external standard in 2018, the Native American Archives Section (NAAS) launched a case studies and webinar series about implementing them. These resources include guidelines for providing culturally appropriate and accurate descriptive information for Native American and Indigenous collections.

Implementing the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials, a five-part webinar series, is an SAA Foundation–funded grant project designed to complement our case studies series. Each webinar focuses on a different theme in the PNAAM and features an institution or project that embodies that theme. All webinars are freely available online through our partner, the Sustainable Heritage Network, and are captioned to improve accessibility.

Sustainable Heritage Network (SHN) is funded in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and is based at Washington State University. The SHN supports the lifecycle of cultural materials by providing a space to communicate and learn about digital stewardship and preservation. Aimed specifically at the needs of tribal archivists, librarians, and museum (TALM) specialists, the SHN was formed in response to a 2012 Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums (ATALM) report, Sustaining Indigenous Culture, which found a need for training in the lifecycle of digital stewardship through short topic courses and online materials. Organized as a collaborative network, the SHN online platform brings together communities, institutions, and professionals to support each other by sharing knowledge, educational resources, and technology necessary for the responsible digitization and preservation of cultural heritage. The SHN provides hands-on and virtual topic-specific workshops and short courses; online educational resources such as video tutorials, documents and conference presentations relevant to TALMs; and access to experts, workspace and equipment through its network of workbenches to further digitization and preservation.

Culturally Sensitive Collection Management System: Murkata

Mukurtu (MOOK-oo-too) is a grassroots project aiming to empower communities to manage, share, narrate, and exchange their digital heritage in culturally relevant and ethically-minded ways. We are committed to maintaining an open, community-driven approach to Mukurtu’s continued development. Our first priority is to help build a platform that fosters relationships of respect and trust.

Articles on Native American Digital Archives

“The songline is alive in Mukurtu”: Return, reuse, and respect.” in LD&C Special Publication No. 18: Archival Returns: Central Australia and Beyond, edited by Linda Barwick, Jennifer Green & Petronella Vaarzon-Morel. Sydney University Press, 2019, pp. 153–172. 

“Relationships not Records: Digital Heritage and the Ethics of Sharing Indigenous Knowledge Online.” in Routledge Companion to Media Studies and Digital Humanities, edited by Jentery Sayers. Routledge: Taylor and Francis, 2018, pp. 403-412. 

“A Community of Relations: Mukurtu Hubs and Spokes.” co-authored with Alex Merrill and Michael Wynne, D-Lib Magazine, vol (23), number 5/6, May/June 2017. 

Sovereignty, Repatriation, and the Archival Imagination. Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals, Spring 2015, vol 11 (2):115-138.

A Safe Keeping Place: Mukurtu CMS Innovating Museum Collaborations, in Museum Innovations: Museums Collections Management, edited by Juilee Drucker. Rowman & Littlefield, 2015, 61-68.

Does Information Really Want to be Free? Indigenous Knowledge Systems and the Question of Openness. International Journal of Communication. 2012, Volume 6, 2870-2893. 

Opening Archives: Respectful Repatriation. American Archivist. Volume 74, Spring/Summer 2011, 185-210.