Photography’s early years
coincided with growing contact in indigenous communities. Outside visitors’ cameras literally took photos away to distant archives—often with mistaken captions—where they remain as the historical record. Source community management of their
knowledge, digitally, will facilitate access and enhance value for all populations.
Inaccurate and incomplete information
in archives that hold indigenous cultural
materials can be addressed.
When digital archives are curated by source communities,
expert knowledge may be
added and then be shared. Local control provides
a system based on traditional knowledge, which allows access to certain items only to specified populations within their people, according to their cultural norms. While in opposition to the dearly held archival concept of equal open access, these culturally opposing points of view can be accommodated with the considered understanding that results from collaborative work.
The Plateau Peoples’
Web Portal allows the
cultural materials of five tribes held at various repositories in Washington State
and the Smithsonian, to
be curated directly by the tribes. It is based on Dr. Kim Christen‘s work with the
Waramungu community in Tennant Creek, Australia to develop a knowledge management system that implements cultural
protocols (i.e., male vs. female viewing). The end result was the creation
of the open source Mukurtu Wumpurrani-kari Archive. http://www.mukurtu.org
The Ara Irititja Project began in 1994 with the digital repatriation of archival materials to remote communities in Central Australia.
In 2010, 108,000 digital records were migrated from an object-based FileMaker Pro database into a multimedia knowledge management system
via a private intranet on the
web (adhering to strict
imperatives). It includes
“profiles for every person, plant, animal, thing,
place and collection in
the archive expanding the original
software into a comprehensive
tool for preserving and
cultural knowledge.” http://www.irititja.com
In this 175th
year of photography, affordable and easy to
configure systems can allow indigenous communities to represent their own cultural history in the archive without extensive technical expertise or infrastructure. Defined functional requirements will help to develop more systems. The results: digital return to more communities and enhanced information for all populations, respecting the cultural traditions that proscribe specified access to culturally sensitive
materials. Guidelines for access
will need review by organizations
like the Society of American Archivists and the ICA. Ari Irititja’s profiles for entities along with object records points to ISAAR-CPF and by extension EAC and linked data, showing the value of using local ontologies and interoperable
standards to enhance
control and access to the
wealth of indigenous knowledge that may be shared and possibly licensed.