My project is titled the Lansing Michigan Anishinaabeg Oral History Archive. The goal of this project is to record the oral history and stories of Native elders and fluent Anishinaabemowin speakers who came to Lansing MI to work in the auto industry and other jobs. These elders are now in many ways the backbone and center of the Lansing Native community are are valued for both their cultural knowledge and their fluency in Anishinaabemowin. The majority of these individuals came from reserves in and around Manitoulin Island in Ontario Canada but have made Lansing their home. This project is important for many reasons. First with the number of fluent speakers in the state down to 50 or less the wealth of information these elders have about Anishinaabeg language and culture is phenomenal. Also there stories about migrating to Lansing, their experiences working in the auto industry and their role in the community as elders is an important but overlooked part of Lansing’s historical and cultural heritage.
For this project I will be using Mukurtu, an indigenous archive tool, to create an on-line digital repository for the Lansing Native community to access and preserve these stories and materials. This platform has several important features. Most important is that it gives individual and community control of their cultural heritage resources while making them available to community members who may not be able to access them through traditional methods. Mukurtu lets the individuals and communities decide the level of access and how they may be used by others. Materials can be labeled as restricted for community use only or in the case of oral histories that are contain culturally sensitive knowledge, for certain uses and times. This platform both records and preserves knowledge for future generations but it also protects this cultural knowledge and heritage from being taken by outsiders without consent. This platform also great because is can be used to easily present audio and video recordings, photographs and scanned documents.
I am planning on doing both individual and group interviews discussing a range of topics such as there experiences growing up on their reserves, why they left home and how they heard about working in Lansing. I am also interested in their experiences with racism and identity and the ways in which they maintained their connections to their homes, culture and language. I am also going to included photographs and possibly scanned materials that they are willing to share as well. This project is important not just for this community but for other urban native communities who have members with similar experiences and histories of migrations and place making. I think it is also important for researchers interested in exploring the intersections of immigrant and indigenous movements, migrations and trans-nationalism.
My hope is that this project will live long after my time with the CHI fellowship as these stories and experiences have connections to other Native urban communities. I can see the possibility that this project could grow to encompass other communities such as Detroit and Chicago. However I always have to remind myself to start small.