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Naming and Claiming: Indigenous Language In Digital Repatriation


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By India Young, Princeton University Art Museum, USA

Digital Repatriation is an emerging effort from museums to conceptually return belongings, largely removed during colonial nation-building programs. It utilizes the tools of technology to make visible the deepest recesses of museum collections. The Princeton University Art Museum has begun one such undertaking to make a collection of Northwest Coast Indigenous belongings publicly available.

To center digital repatriation, in what could otherwise be a cataloging project, Princeton is working to create meaningful engagement with Northwest Coast communities so that communities themselves determine how their belongings are represented within physical and digital spaces. This talk focuses on the relationship between naming and claiming. Princeton’s online resource will name Indigenous belongings in their own language.

To determine names, Princeton is creating a forum for Indigenous speakers and learners to collaborate and decide how objects should be titled. Naming is at the heart of concepts of truth, sovereignty, and belonging. Princeton’s Indigenous naming project will conceptually return belongings, and also make visible the colonial implications that tie removals of belongings to histories of language loss and language revitalization.

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Naming and Claiming: Indigenous Language In Digital Repatriation

  1. 1. Naming and Claiming: Indigenous Language and Digital Repatriation India Young Princeton University Art Museum
  2. 2. Tlingit, Yakutat K’aakanéi (bowl) for eex (grease) in the form of a seal before 1886 Cedar h. 6.3 cm., l. 20.2 cm., w. 17.0 cm. PU 5229 WHERE THE PROJECT BEGAN
  3. 3. QUESTIONS What are the obligaWons and best pracWces for an insWtuWon? Who does a collecWons database serve? What does the most simple record convey? What can be known in the absence of informaWon? How does the known contribute to redress? How can the unknown become visible? Can absences of knowledge contribute to redress? How does the insWtuWon return cultural and intellectual property and authority online? Where are the dangers of repeaWng colonial constructs?
  4. 4. TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION ReconciliaWon requires construcWve acWon on addressing the ongoing legacies of colonialism that have had destrucWve impacts on Aboriginal peoples’ educaWon, cultures, and languages, health, child welfare, administraWon of jusWce, and economic opportuniWes and prosperity. CALLS TO ACTIONS Towards reconciliaWon in museums, archives, and churches, the TRC calls upon the federal government, the Canadian Museums AssociaWon, the Library and Archives of Canada, and the Canadian AssociaWon of Archivists to comply with the United NaWons DeclaraWon on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to establish commemoraWon projects on the theme of reconciliaWon, and to ensure that records are available for public access.
  5. 5. UNITED NATIONS DECLARATION ON THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES ArWcle 11.2. States shall provide redress through effecWve mechanisms, which may include resWtuWon, developed in conjuncWon with indigenous peoples, with respect to their cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property taken without their free, prior and informed consent or in violaWon of their laws, tradiWons, and customs. ArWcle 12.2 States shall seek to enable the access and/or repatriaWon of ceremonial objects and human remains in their possession through fair, transparent and effecWve mechanisms developed in conjuncWon with indigenous peoples concerned. ArWcle 13.1 Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generaWons their histories, languages, oral tradiWons, philosophies, wriWng systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communiWes, places, and persons. ArWcle 31.1 Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect, and develop their cultural heritage, tradiWonal knowledge and tradiWonal cultural expression… They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, tradiWonal knowledge, and tradiWonal cultural expression.
  6. 6. LINDA TUHIWAI SMITH’S DECOLONIAL METHODOLOGIES “Name the word, name the world” – Paulo Freire NAMING means renaming the world using the original indigenous names. It is about retaining as much control over meaning as possible. By naming the world people name their realiWes. For communiWes there are realiWes which can only be found in the indigenous language; the concepts which are self-evident in the indigenous language can never be captured by another language. CLAIMING In a sense colonialism has reduced indigenous peoples to making claims and asserWons about rights and dues. It is an approach that has a certain noisiness to it. Indigenous peoples, however, have transformed claiming. [Claimed histories] teach both non-indigenous audiences and new generaWons of indigenous peoples an official account of their collecWve story. It may be that in Wme the histories will have to be rewrijen around other prioriWes. RESTORING Ÿ RETURNING Ÿ NETWORKING Ÿ SHARING Ÿ CONNECTING Ÿ TESTIMONIES Ÿ STORY TELLING Ÿ CELEBRATING SURVIVAL Ÿ REMEMBERING Ÿ INDIGENIZING Ÿ INTERVENING Ÿ REVITALIZING Ÿ READING Ÿ WRITING Ÿ REPRESENTING Ÿ GENDERING Ÿ ENVISIONING Ÿ REFRAMING Ÿ DEMOCRATIZING Ÿ NEGOTIATING Ÿ DISCOVERING Ÿ PROTECTING
  7. 7. Northern Northwest Coast probably Haida Feast dish Before 1882 Cedar h. 9.5 cm., l. 43.5 cm., w. 22.5 cm PU 5225 Lent by the Department of Geology and Geosciences, Princeton University Naming people and places Naming belongings Establishing dates Exercising ownership