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Q&A: “How Tribal Archives Foster Reciprocal Relationships and Activism” -- A Virtual Discussion with Rose Miron and Heather Bruegl

Extended answers from Rose Miron (RM) and Heather Bruegl (HB), panelists from “Relationships, Reciprocity, and Responsibilities: Indigenous Studies in Archives and Beyond,” panel 5: Community-Based Archival Initiatives (Click here to watch)

Question: Has the Stockbridge Munsee historical society had other objects (as opposed to papers) repatriated in the past? I'm kind of (pleasantly) surprised that the Oshkosh museum reacted well, and wonder if the reactions to repatriation requests have changed over time? (Kai Pyle)
RM: Yes, the Arvid E. Miller Library-Museum has had other objects repatriated in the past. The historic Bible and Communion set that was repatriated from the Mission House Museum in Stockbridge, MA is an especially interesting case for many reasons. While the Communion set was returned through a formal NAGPRA request in 2006, the two volume Bible set was returned in 1991. The agreement for return was made just six months before NAGPRA was passed and the actual return happened outside of a formal NAGPRA request in March 1991. The Trustees of Reservations, who manage the Mission House Museum, were quite resistant to this repatriation for a long time however. The tribe began asking for the Bible and Communion set to be returned in 1975. The story of that return is outlined in a 2018 article I published in the journal Native American and Indigenous Studies, Volume 5, Issue 2. I believe the Library-Museum has also successfully recovered at least one wampum belt, but Heather will know more about other repatriations than I do. 
HB: The Library/Museum has been able to successfully repatriate several items, those mentioned above as in the Bible and communion set as well as a partial wampum belt in addition to sacred objects as well.  We are extremely excited that the repatriation of the powder horn is going so well as this will help set a precedent for us and hopefully allow us to be successful in other objects that we currently have our eye on.
 
Question: What are the panelists’ reasons for or what do they see as benefits to working on archives-related topics outside of the formal archives world, for example, pursuing a PhD in anthropology versus in library and information studies? (Anonymous) 
RM: While I can't speak for Anthropology (my PhD is in American Studies and I am a historian) I guess I came to this topic a bit backwards--I didn't think I would be writing about archives when I started working with the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation in 2011. But, I quickly realized that I was interested in the process of how historical narratives are produced, and that archives are key to that process. So, coming at my research from a historical lens not only allows me to really interrogate the ways that tribal archives specifically intervene in the production of history, but also allows me to think about how the growth of tribal archives fits within the longer trajectory of Native activism in the second half of the 20th century. 
HB: I think being able to pursue a degree in archives can be extremely helpful when you are working on history related projects.  While I don’t have a PhD, both my BA and MA have an emphasis on history and I am a historian.  Being able to work with archives and learning how they work can be extremely beneficial when you are working in the history field.
 
Question: Are there any positive outcomes of archives’ ethnographic material returned to tribes and away from universities? (Danelle Gutierrez)
RM: I think there is tremendous potential for positive outcomes. Ethnographic material does often need to be carefully critiqued and interrogated because of the fact that so much of it was created within an exploitative research model. However, Native people are the best experts on how to do that. They have the capability to interrogate these items and recognize how colonialism likely impacted the conclusions made by the author, while also taking knowledge that does resonate with them and using it in support of language and cultural revitalization. In other words, I do believe these materials can be read "along the grain" as Ann Stoler puts it, but Native researchers are best equipped to do that work because of the knowledge they hold. Some tribal nations may not want those materials repatriated or may already have copies, but I think it is worth having conversations about where that knowledge belongs. 
 
Question: What are your hopes with regard to establishing a precedent with the powderhorn repatriation? any changes in methodology or process? (Stephen Curley)
HB: I think that our main hope, other than having the object finally home, is that it helps set a precedent for our tribal nation to use when trying to bring other objects home.  Under NAGPRA, Cultural Patrimony is extremely hard to navigate.  The burden of proof is put on the tribal nation as opposed to the holding facility.  We have to show why an item is important to us and we are at the mercy of the holding facility telling us no, we are wrong.  So it is the holding facility who dictates to us how our history is told.  While NAGPRA does help, it is still the holding facility that can dictate whether or not our oral histories meet their criteria.   The success with the Oshkosh Public Museum is a huge step because it was a case argued under cultural patrimony and the museum saw and heard us and agreed.  This can be extremely beneficial for future repatriations using cultural patrimony.