Treasa Bane is an Academic Librarian at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Baraboo Sauk County. You can find her on Twitter @TreasaBane
New Community, New Perspective
There are eleven federally recognized tribal governments in Wisconsin. In my first year as a professional librarian at a small, two-year liberal arts college in rural southern Wisconsin, I’ve had the pleasure of addressing the research needs of a handful of Indigenous students (mostly Ho-Chunk and Ojibwe) as well as helping non-Indigenous students research Indigenous populations. My involvement with local programming and outreach efforts, becoming a member of the American Indian Library Association (AILA) in order to keep up with news and trends, visiting tribal libraries, and discovering several other resources have provided me with context and direction of research methodology from and about Indigenous populations.
My introduction to Indigenous knowledge came from last year’s Big Read program. The University of Wisconsin-Barron English professor, Lee Friederich, directed the National Endowment for the Art’s-funded Wisconsin Reads The Round House, a Big Read series of events that took place during March and April 2018, in which book discussions, lectures, and performances took place throughout the state of Wisconsin. More information can be found on their website and Facebook page. Louise Erdrich’s The Round House is about an Ojibwe family coping with the rape of a wife and mother. Native Americans are sexually assaulted more than any other race, and Native American women’s assaulters are 70% white men. While the law has made strides in terms of domestic violence and enforcement, there are many legal and jurisdictional barriers that keep Native American women as the most assaulted group. My community on the UW-Baraboo/Sauk County campus is on Ho-Chunk land. As part of this program, a public librarian and I asked Muscogee (Creek) Nation member, scholar, and lawyer, Sarah Deer, to join a panel discussion about sexual assault on and off reservations and within and outside indigenous communities.
Acknowledging Indigenous Knowledge Frameworks
Our collections are full of unethically obtained, inaccurate, and stereotypical material regarding Indigenous groups. UCLA professor Peter Nabokov did not seek approval from the Acoma Pueblo before publishing a book; read more at LA Weekly’s Navahoax, but this is only one of many revelations. Additionally, captivity narratives and scalping done by Indigenous groups are completely false. While much of Indigenous knowledge has been erased and disrespected due to the prioritization of written records as opposed to oral or other formats like wampum pelts, petrogyphs, and birchbark scrolls, the damage can be rectified by uncovering the Indigenous perspectives in history. Indigenous methodologies are often placed within Westernized, qualitative frameworks, which is manageable but not without making Indigenous knowledge something it isn’t. This will remain a problem until Indigenous knowledge frameworks are “given space of their own” (Kovach).
I’ve read about Indigenous learning habits that have resonated with my experiences. Because so much land has been stolen, because so many businesses have cheated Indigenous peoples out of income, because literature consistently distributes poor representations of Indigenous peoples, and because generations of Indigenous peoples have suffered abuse from government-controlled boarding schools, many Indigenous peoples are distrustful of government institutions like colleges. This might be why the few Ho-Chunk students at my college have often turned to family and friends for information needs before the library–there’s a strong and valid relationship there I don’t have.
My varying research performance, from almost complete failure to almost helpful, has disappointed me greatly but also invigorated me to keep learning.
Research Question Example
One student wanted to research Ho-Chunk recipes and food supply conditions during the Great Depression. Did Ho-Chunks’ means of obtaining food and cooking influence other struggling non-Ho-Chunk neighbors? Primary source material would be paramount to addressing this question, but failing memories of the Ho-Chunk elderly and subpar preservation methods to retain accurate representation created barriers. I discovered more fruitful information by searching for specific missionary schools. This might seem like a somewhat backward approach, but it demonstrates that you cannot ignore or disregard the historical, genocidal impact Western education has had on Indigenous people and therefore Indigenous information literacy.
Considerations within Indigenous Research
To pretend oppressive forces such as missionary schools on generations of people do not impact knowledge frameworks is to disregard its emotional and spiritual impact. We librarians often forget that research can often be personal. Librarian Jessie Loyer contextualizes this idea, which is known in Cree as “wahkohtowin” in her chapter, “Indigenous Information Literacy: nêhiyaw Kinship Enabling Self-Care in Research” from The Politics of Theory and the Practice of Critical Librarianship published by Library Juice Press.
There are several characteristics to balance: taking care not to shift attention from peoplehood to ethnicity, realizing that not all things are meant for all people to know, and understanding that ideologies and epistemologies are unique not just within Indigenous peoples as a whole but within tribes as well, as these are all examples of privilege and entitlement that connect back to colonial violence (Justice). While Western ideals have forced their way into some of the ideologies and epistemologies unique to Indigenous tribes, many are in the process of reclaiming their own specific background.
Additional Tips and Online Resources
There are two best pieces of advice I’ve received from Native American Studies professor, Renee Gralewicz. One, be persistent in making connections with indigenous peoples and why this matters. Two, honor your local indigenous communities’ histories by, at a minimum, reading their treaty rights. I am constantly considering new ways of learning and expanding my knowledge on this content. I am considering enrolling in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s LIS 640 course focusing on tribal libraries. Additionally, I use the following websites regularly:
- Several bibliographies are available via the Indigenous Literary Perspectives in Global Perspective site.
- Smithsonian’s Native Knowledge 360
- National Archives
- Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums (ATALM)
- Indigitization: Toolkit for the digitization of first nations knowledge
- Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
When conducting research that involves indigenous communities, you must know how to respect indigenous information and honor indigenous methodologies. Respecting indigenous information not only refers to questioning when your methods of obtaining information and assumptions might be othering or appropriating, but also questioning when the methods of obtaining information of other researchers might have been othering or appropriating. Honoring indigenous methodologies means seeking accurate representation, questioning where there might be colonial or Westernized influence, and avoiding tokenizing indigenous knowledge systems.
Museum collections of indigenous materials sometimes include sacred materials or materials that contribute to the idea that indigenous populations are savage or a thing of the past. Inclusivity means obtaining an understanding of how these practices by some of the most renowned information gatekeepers are offensive and wrong. If this understanding is taken a step further, for example, in conversations about blood quantum and DNA, this is not just about being inclusive; this is about engaging in the conversation about Westernized concepts of ethnicity and that belonging to a sovereign nation’s history of resilience is more complex. In other words, many research projects will involve jurisdictional issues between reservations and non-reservation land, between arguments of ethnicity, and so on, none of which would be adequately served under a one-size fits all approach.
ACRL provides outstanding webinars on this topic; it’s how I discovered Daniel Heath Justice. Look at what ATALM is planning at their upcoming conference in terms of preservation and digitization, or better yet go if you can. The journal, Collection Management, also provides helpful research into building healthy Indigenous collections, particularly in Loriene Roy’s “Keeping Up: Building Your Indigenous Collection.”
Months ago I did not have the courage to correct the Wisconsin Historical Society member who answered my question by saying Native Americans weren’t good record keepers—which, if you take anything away from this reflection piece, is so wrong and damaging to perpetuate. This is still very much an awareness issue and should be rectified whenever possible. While there are many challenges, and progress doesn’t happen overnight, I feel I make small accomplishments by acknowledging that I sit on Ho-Chunk land on this beautiful continent known to many as Turtle Island.
Note on the featured image: The Thunderbird appears in both Ojibwa and Ho-Chunk (formerly called Winnebago) myths; both tribes have land in or surrounding the state of Wisconsin that I’ve researched with students. In Ojibwa, the thunderbird punishes humans who break moral rules (Traditional Ojibwa Religion and Its Historical Changes).
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