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Q&A: “Being in the Archive: Indigenous Research Methodologies and the Allure of Archives” -- A Virtual Discussion with Johannah Bird

Extended answers from Johannah Bird (JB), panelist from “Relationships, Reciprocity, and Responsibilities: Indigenous Studies in Archives and Beyond,” panel 3: Indigenous Researchers in Non-Native Archives (Click here to watch)

Question: How can research programs support specific emotional needs of researchers experiencing or re-experiencing trauma through archival work? (Bimadoshka Pucan)
JB: Thank you for this question. I think developing awareness around how histories of colonialism and racism can (and do) come to bear on researchers’ experiences both in and outside archives is important. This requires knowledge—of these histories and of the range of ways researchers can be impacted by the materials they work with. As a practical example, it helps if a researcher doesn’t have to educate the staff and archivists who are working with them about, say, Indigenous histories while the researchers are also trying to do their own work in the archives. However, what a research program—and the folks who administer it—is able to do depends on the program itself. From my own experience, my archival research processes have always benefited from being in contact with other scholars and thinkers, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who are thinking about similar questions and issues and with whom (if not in person, then through their work) I can process my own experiences. So, developing ways for researchers to have that support from knowledgeable, experienced peers or colleagues is important. Finally, what is being done within archives to mitigate the possibilities of re-traumatization? What conditions of support, care, and understanding surround troubling materials?

Question: Can you talk more about your experiences at the Six Nations Archives as a model for what non-Native archives can do to better care for Indigenous researchers? (Anonymous)
JB: My relationship with the Deyohahá:ge: The Indigenous Knowledge Centre is facilitated by my participation in the Two Row Research Partnership, a group of researchers and thinkers committed to thinking about research methodologies arising from the Two Row Wampum. As a group of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous thinkers, we are hosted by Deyohahá:ge: and also work to support the Knowledge Centre in practical ways. I have not conducted extensive research in the collections at Deyohahá:ge:, but I have always experienced hospitality that I do not often experience in state archives. Deyohahá:ge: is focused on Haudenosaunee collections, reflecting its place in Six Nations of the Grand River, but as a non-local Anishinabee, I felt welcomed and was provided with materials to help me begin thinking with folks in Six Nations in reference to their stories, history, and epistemologies. There are also so many things assumed or taken for granted at a place like Deyohahá:ge:--the responsibility to serve the local community, the necessity of repatriation, centering Indigenous knowledge and experience in research, understanding around the stakes of research priorities for Indigenous researchers, to name a few. 

Question: What can archives do to improve care for researchers? (Anonymous)
JB: First and foremost, learn about colonial histories and the ways archives and archival processes have been and are implicated in these histories (e.g., reifying notion of Indigenous people as always objects of study). 

Question: Johannah, thank you for sharing your feelings you felt working with archives. I, too, work with our Peoples ethnographic material and was an ethnographic manuscript transcriber so the emotions that humans can feel I went through very one of them. Do you think some of the materials should be kept private regarding burials and ceremonies?  The informants were interviewed by their family members otherwise they wouldn't have shared any of this info with the anthropologists of UC Berkeley California. (Danelle Gutierrez)
JB: I am unfamiliar with the question-asker’s context, but I do see a place for some archives remaining or becoming private. However, I think it is difficult to make general rules about this applied to all contexts. Rather, the communities affected by the materials should be able to impact this kind of decision.