Open-Access Cultural Heritage Resources and Native American Stakeholders: A Case Study from Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Carrie C. Heitman

    University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Work text
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Digital Archives are typically designed to address the needs of specific audiences. In the case of cultural heritage resources, the stakeholders invested in digital archival resources can be harder to gauge and further complicated by historical, economic, religious, political and legislative issues. In this poster, I present a case study profiling these complexities: an archive of historic or legacy data on the cultural heritage of a sacred Ancestral Pueblo site known today as “Chaco Canyon” (located in northwest New Mexico, U.S.).

The poster is framed in three sections. Part one documents the ways in which academics and cultural heritage professionals tried and failed to engage native communities when initially building the Chaco Digital Initiative. I highlight some of the reasons those efforts were unsuccessful and the ways in which we succeeded by engaging in the process of tribal consultation. I also discuss some of the reasons our project was ultimately accepted if not embraced by various tribal representatives. This case study is presented in the context of current international efforts, such as Mukurtu, to create community-based repositories for cultural knowledge as well as issues of digital repatriation.

In the second part of the poster, I outline the culturally sensitive issues we encountered during the course of the project and the technical and social solutions we used to address them. Such issues include withholding images of human remains from image searches and decisions about how to handle documents containing drawings of human burials. In this section, I briefly describe our engagement in legal disputes and repatriation claims related to the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act passed by the United States Congress in 1990.

In the third part of the poster, I discuss ongoing efforts to engage with descendent communities in ways that allow the Chaco Research Archive (CRA) to be a resource for cultural empowerment. Structural inequalities facing tribal historic preservation offices often hinder their ability to access and utilize resources like the CRA. I outline current efforts to engage in a more active dialogue and outreach activities to facilitate the use of this digital archive by tribal representatives.

To conclude, I summarize the lessons we have learned through the process of building a digital archive devoted to Indigenous cultural heritage and provide recommendations for best practices.

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2014
"Digital Cultural Empowerment"

Hosted at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Université de Lausanne

Lausanne, Switzerland

July 7, 2014 - July 12, 2014

377 works by 898 authors indexed

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Attendance: 750 delegates according to Nyhan 2016

Series: ADHO (9)

Organizers: ADHO