Society of Southwest Archivists endorses Protocols for Native American Archival Materials developed at NAU

The Society of Southwest Archivists (SSA) recently joined the growing number of organizations choosing to endorse the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials developed at Northern Arizona University.

SSA is an organization that strives to provide research and information about the preservation and administration of archival records. It serves more than 500 archivists, special collections librarians, preservationists, conservators and record managers in the states of Arizona, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas. The SSA officially endorsed the protocols in August 2019.

NAU developed the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials  to provide and promote best practices for culturally responsive care and use of Native American archival and documentary material held by non-tribal organizations. The protocols reflect a Native American perspective and build upon numerous professional ethical codes, significant international declarations recognizing Indigenous rights and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols for Libraries, Archives, and Information Services. Practices are meant to inspire and foster mutual respect and reciprocity and include recommendations for non-tribal libraries and archives as well as Native American communities.

The protocols evolved from relationships between the Cline Library Special Collections and Archives and regional Native American communities, most notably the Hopi Tribe and the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office. In April 2006, 19 Native American and non-Native American archivists, librarians, museum curators, historians and anthropologists gathered at NAU’s Cline Library to identify the best professional practices for culturally responsive care and use of American Indian archival material held by non-tribal organizations.

“There were challenges along the way, but none too difficult to overcome,” said Peter Runge, head of Special Collections and Archives. “The primary challenge was getting a group of appropriate participants together to have the conversations and discussions that led to the drafting of the Protocols.”

The participants included representatives from 15 Native American, First Nation and Aboriginal communities.

“Once the protocols were drafted and made available, there were lengthy discussions and debates among professional archivists and culture keepers around the adoption of the protocols as an accepted professional standard,” Runge said.

The discussions and debates focused on human rights themes that included understanding Native American values and perspectives and providing contexts for Native American archival materials. These topics provided the foundation for discussing policy and legal considerations, some of which included the importance of consultation with and concurrence of tribal communities in decisions and policies, the need to recognize and provide special treatment for culturally sensitive materials and rethinking public accessibility of materials, among others.

To help maintain the protocols, NAU and the Cline Library manage the website and email and serve as a resource for First Nation culture keepers and non-tribal archivists while actively exercising the fundamental tenets of the protocols in regular work.

“We work closely with our regional Native American colleagues, the vice president of Native American initiatives, to develop mutually beneficial and reciprocal memorandum of agreements,” Runge said. “We reach out to our regional Native American colleagues whenever we have concerns or questions about the culturally sensitive material in our collections. We strive to support the success of NAU Native American students directly and indirectly and we look to collaborate with our Native American partners on grant opportunities.”

With the addition of SSA, 10 cultural heritage organizations currently endorse the Protocols.