On April 14th and 15th UW-Madison’s Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums class was able to attend “Convening Culture Keepers”, a gathering of Wisconsin tribal librarians, archivists, and museum curators. Unfortunately, the entire class was not able to make the trip, but the four students that did, as well as class instructors Omar Poler and Janice Rice, are eager to share descriptions of the events.
The trip began early and by noon the class had arrived at Lac Courte Oreilles Community College. Following a hearty lunch in the dining area and a quick tour of the Pipe Moustache auditorium, Janice and Omar visited Jerry Smith. By 3 pm the group had reconvened and final preparation of the conference space began. As planned, a visit was made to the Wadookodaading Ojibwe Language Family Learning Night and not only did the class get to join in on a tour of the classrooms, but was also generously invited to stay for the evening’s meal. Needless to say, class reviews of the school tour were enthusiastic.
The night did not end here, however. Joining several other conference attendees the class ventured back over to the community college to view a photo slideshow jointly presented by Wisconsin Heritage Online and the Langlade County Historical Society. The Historical Society is currently collaborating with Wisconsin Heritage Online to place a collection of photographer Arthur Kingsbury’s photographs online and both organizations, along with several members of the TLAM class, have been working diligently to identify many of the Native Wisconsin individuals portrayed in this collection. Conference attendees were asked to chime in with any knowledge they had of people, places, or events portrayed in the slideshow presentation.
The following day began bright and early with coffee, donuts, and a morning prayer lead by Jerry Smith in the auditorium. The first session of the day was lead by UW-Madison School of Library and Information Studies’ Professor Louise Robbins. “Starting a Tribal Cultural Institution: Brainstorming Session to Help Communities without a Library, Archive or Museum” asked for advice and discussion of issues from conference attendees. A variety of questions were asked including where to look for funding in the beginning stages of such a project, possible tribal partnerships, and what solutions others had employed to sustain the institution and its staffing levels.
The conference then segued to two other presentations: Emily Pfotenhauer’s “Going Digital with Wisconsin Heritage Online” and the College of Menominee Nation Library’s “Digitizing Special Menominee Collections.” Giving her second presentation in just 24 hours, Emily Pfotenhauer offered several reasons for digitizing items including protection from wear and tear and the added presence of these items online for new audiences like schoolchildren, homebound Elders, and tourists. She also shared the organization’s goals and offered training and support to organizations interested in digitization projects.
Monique Tyndall along with several of her College of Menominee Nation colleagues then presented a description of their team’s experiences with simultaneously cataloging and digitizing their special collections. Focused on termination and restoration of the Menominee’s federal sovereignty, many of the relevant papers were stored in a former morgue and were often victims of brittleness, mold, and water damage. Descriptions of the team’s process and 10-year plan were inspiring.
Following a short break, the group reconvened to take part in an activity lead by UW-Madison School of Education’s Ryan Comfort. After an introduction, Ryan asked the eight groups to complete four tasks:
1) Identify a resource that tells an indigenous story well
2) Describe why this resource came to mind
3) Tell why makes it a “good” resource
4) Detail how culture was reflected in the reasons for selection
Groups quickly delved into this task and when asked a variety of resources were brought up in response. Two groups referenced Edward Benton-Banai’s “The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway” and it was praised for its clear and vivid illustrations for youth. Other groups identified indigenous artifacts, photographs, technology, and Elders, themselves, as resources that ‘tell an indigenous story well.’ There was no shying away from the fact that many felt a level of discomfort as well as pride in certain items. By sharing or publishing resources, one person pointed out, cultures open themselves up to plagiarism and “skewing” of their ideas and traditions.
At this point, the conference attendees broke into two separate groups to attend Nicolette Meister’s “Preserving Cultural Collections” and David Benjamin’s “Care Handling, and Accessing Visual Materials in Archival Collections.” Nicolette Meister’s presentation was held in one of the college’s biology classrooms and was a great descriptive and hands-on learning opportunity. The Curator of Collections for the Logan Museum of Anthropology at Beloit College in Wisconsin, Meister described some of her work with cultural collections and the challenges that preservation brings. Not only did she pass around samples of relevant preservation materials, Nicollete also had prepared an annotated bibliography with a resource list, packing and rehousing supplies, archival storage materials, and book box construction instructions.
David Benjamin led an equally informative workshop detailing the care of visual materials in archival collections. His first piece of advice for those beginning photo projects was “Don’t panic; avoid becoming overwhelmed. Just dig in.” He then dug into the many details surrounding digital photography, daguerreotypes, silver nitrate images, card photos, and stereographs. Several questions were posed by attendees concerning the preservation of these images; answers to these questions were sometimes deceptively simple or nuanced due to the fragility of the items. In the end, Benjamin offered several pieces of advice, the strongest of these being to have in place a disaster preparation plan, stay current on technology, and not view digitization as actual permanent preservation.
The LCO Elders Association generously provided lunch to all the attendees. On the menu was meatloaf, gravy, vegetables, cake, and frybread, as well as to-go boxes for anyone that so desired. Following lunch and the switch to alternate workshops, attendees were asked to fill out evaluations as the conference wound to an end. Without a doubt, it was a jam-packed two days and the information discussed and presented will continue to be remembered and mulled over by attendees for the next several weeks and months!