Convening Culture Keepers is a series of six professional development and networking mini-conferences for tribal librarians, archivists, and museum curators serving American Indian communities in Wisconsin. Sponsored by the UW-Madison School of Library and Information Studies-Continuing Education Services (SLIS-CES) and endorsed by Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council, Inc., the day-long biannual gatherings seek to provide culturally-relevant trainings and create enduring professional networks between tribal and non-tribal cultural institutions. To date, SLIS-CES and its tribal partners have hosted gatherings at: Oneida Nation; Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) Ojibwe Community College; College of Menominee Nation; Forest County Potawatomi Cultural Center, Library & Museum; and Lac du Flambeau. The mini-conferences are funded by grants from the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment and Morgridge Center for Public Service. Read more about the support and funding for the Convening Culture Keepers here.

Addressing a Need

The majority of Wisconsin’s eleven federally-recognized American Indian nations maintain institutions––libraries, archives, and museums––that collect, preserve, and make accessible priceless tribal histories, languages, and cultures. Through oral history projects, government records, family genealogies, and cultural objects, tribal librarians, archivists, and museum curators (the Culture Keepers) are critical to preserving––and sharing––the stories of native communities.

Yet despite sharing many commonalities, few professional development and networking opportunities have existed for Wisconsin-based tribal cultural workers. According to one long-time tribal librarian at the Lac du Flambeau Public Library, no statewide professional gatherings have occurred since the early 1970s. Distance and the lack of resources have made attendance of such conferences at the state and national level problematic for many tribal workers.

The Convening Culture Keepers Mini-Conference Series

The idea of a mini-conference series to support tribal cultural institutions grew out of several community engagement projects between the School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) at UW-Madison and the Indian Nations of Wisconsin. These projects helped identify the need for learning and networking opportunities among Culture Keepers, as many tribal contacts communicated the need to develop knowledge and skills to be better able to perform their jobs and serve their communities. The Convening Culture Keepers, co-created by SLIS Continuing Education Services (CES) and tribal partners, was proposed to address this need.

The ultimate outcome of the CCK mini-conferences will be enhanced, culturally-relevant services for tribal communities through better trained cultural workers who can rely on a network of informed and committed co-workers in addition to members of the University of Wisconsin community. To support this, the mini-conferences will circulate among tribal communities in order to enhance overall geographic accessibility, and provide a conference format that includes participatory discussions, workshops, and trainings on topics such as archival best practices, digital collections, indigenous knowledge organization, language revitalization techniques, and oral history projects. The series is also intended to provide an initial infrastructure for professional development and networking, as well as an opportunity to strengthen partnership between the University of Wisconsin and tribal Culture Keepers.