Newberry Library Will Collaborate with Native Communities to Expand Access to Indigenous Studies Collections

The Newberry Library and a group of tribal and community partners will work together on a multiyear project to expand access to the library’s extensive Indigenous Studies collection.

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Representation of the clans of the ogimaag (chiefs) of the Lake Superior bands of Ojibwe. The clans are shown united at a time when they were petitioning the US government to revise treaty boundaries set in 1842. From Historical and statistical information, respecting the history, condition and prospects of the Indian tribes of the United States, by Henry Schoolcraft. 1851.

The Newberry Library and a group of tribal and community partners will work together on a multiyear project to expand access to the library’s extensive Indigenous Studies collection. The project will be supported by a generous grant from the Mellon Foundation.

Building on its long-standing commitment to serving and partnering with Indigenous scholars, students, and members of the public, the Newberry will collaborate with Native communities to learn more about their needs and priorities. The project is designed to help the Newberry align institutional policies and actions with Native perspectives, cultural practices, and knowledge systems.

The planning phase of the project includes a convening of Newberry staff, community partners, and other experts who have created or supported Indigenous libraries and archives. These conversations will result in a library-wide strategy that will guide a range of activities, including outreach, programming, digitization, and archival and cataloging standards.

“Native peoples and communities are the best representatives of their own histories and cultures, and our partners will lead the way as we identify new opportunities to deepen our relationships with Indigenous nations, support Native-led research, and remove structural barriers to collections held at the Newberry,” said Rose Miron, Director of the Newberry’s D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies. “We’re grateful to the Mellon Foundation for supporting this collaborative project to advance the Newberry’s ideals of community and accessibility.”

“During a time of unified uprising and uplifting societal change occurring across the nation, it is exemplary that the Newberry has remained committed to supporting Native American people in bringing awareness and more truths to the narrative on their history in Chicago and surrounding areas,” said Samantha Selby, Facilitator for the Chicago American Indian Community Collaborative, one of the partners on the Mellon-funded project. “This project will create visibility not only in our city, but across the nation, and it has the power to influence other institutions to follow suit by allowing the other side of American history to be told by the people whose narrative has been left out.”

The Newberry’s Indigenous Studies collection now includes 130,000 volumes, 1 million manuscript pages, 2,000 maps, 500 atlases, 11,000 photographs, and 3,500 drawings related to Indigenous peoples in the Americas and beyond. The core of this collection dates back to 1911, when Edward E. Ayer, a Newberry Trustee, donated some 17,000 items to the Newberry.

These materials can be accessed to support Indigenous efforts to engage with the past, revitalize endangered languages, and improve teaching and learning about Native Americans today. Yet the colonial roots of the collection can make it difficult for Indigenous users to access it.

For example, as they collected materials or documented information, non-Native scholars and writers often recorded sacred or religious content against tribal wishes, published information that was not intended to leave tribal communities, and shared tribal knowledge outside its intended context and cultural protocols. Much of this information is held in non-Native libraries and archives, where it is often misrepresented, not identified as culturally sensitive, shared without knowledge of tribal protocols, and remains difficult for Native people to find because of the colonial terminology with which it is described.

Funding from the Mellon Foundation will allow the Newberry to address these legacies of settler colonialism. Actively consulting its project partners, the library will prepare to update catalog records and other research tools to reflect Native terminology (Ojibwe instead of Chippewa, for example) and adopt workflows and policies that respect Native preferences regarding when and how certain items are to be accessed.

“The Forest County Potawatomi Cultural Preservation Division is grateful and honored to partner with the Newberry,” said Skye Alloway, one of its representatives. “We appreciate the opportunity and look forward to working together to ensure that Indigenous Studies collections are more accessible to and useful for Indigenous tribal nations and communities. We send our appreciation and gratitude to the Mellon Foundation for their generosity and to the Newberry for the inclusion. Migwetch [thank you]!”

“The Pueblo of Santa Ana values this innovative partnership with the Newberry and the ongoing commitment to documenting histories and cultures of Indigenous communities,” said Governor Lawrence Montoya. “We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation and their dedication to ensuring accurate representation of Native cultures and access to collective works. We are looking forward to this partnership and collaborating with other tribal communities to identify solutions to the preservation of our language and culture of Santa Ana for future generations.”