Hello to all, and I hope everyone’s conference season is off to a great start. As Interim Program Manager for the Nisqually Tribe Archives, it is with great appreciation and honor that I was selected as a recipient for the Native American Collections Round Table scholarship.
As a newbie to the profession – graduated from San Jose State University through the IMLS-funded Circle of Learning project – it’s critical to maintain and build networks within and among tribes and those professionals working, struggling and accomplishing similar (or inspiring) goals.
With that said, one of the most important takeaways from attendance at conferences such as NWA Seattle is the meeting and conversations that take place with other professionals working for information institutions that handle and protect tribal historical artifacts and information. Oftentimes as archivists, we are so isolated from each other due to the lack of tribal archivists in the profession, and due to the specific knowledge, protocols and restrictions required when processing each individual tribe’s materials (as compared to larger, public institutions). Conferences, and more specifically Round Table meetings, provide a sound board for all of us to discuss obstacles and achievements, as well as to provide ideas and solutions for our fellow professionals.
These discussions, whether annually, biannually, or once in a blue moon, have become integral to the assessment of my work, and often renew my passion for archives. Without the knowledge of current issues in Indian Country, as well as current endeavors, I feel lost without a map. It’s discussions among us all that help to guide me as I continue to build upon the Tribal Archives here in Nisqually.
Aside from the Round Table meeting, there was one conference session in particular that has stuck with me and continues to influence my professional work ethic. The presenters were all from Washington State Archives and the session was titled “Working in Harmony: Multi-Disciplinary Team Skills in the Digital Archive World.” Beyond the professional communication skills required when working with teams and fellow staff members, the importance of understanding each others work cultures and values was addressed. At one point, an example was brought up discussing the emotional response that can take place when handling sensitive materials, particularly images and photographs, and how that emotional response varies among staff as individuals.
As relevant as this session was for me at the moment, I truly believe this issue needs to be more widely addressed, especially among tribal archives and archivists working within their own tribes. As tribal people, we often find that the objectivity required for standard archival processing is directly affected by the materials we steward. This is not a job you can necessarily “leave at work,” as the images, information, and sometimes voices (oral histories, interviews) of our ancestors, grandparents, and families invoke past memories and feelings, which can be an emotional experience in and of itself. As professionals, we need to keep these situations in mind when establishing and maintaining our working relationships and protocols, and when assigning workflows and timelines.
Although the conference was shorter than I would have liked, the content of the sessions as well as the discussions brought forth by individuals and organizations truly keep me going and inspired in this field, where professional isolation and overall relevance can often leave an archivist burnt out and unfulfilled. I appreciate the time, effort, and financial support of those in the NACRT for reaching out and making sure I applied, and would like to thank all those that welcomed me during the conference.
Shannon Kravitz, NACR Scholarship Awardee 2016