While I face many challenges moving forward with my project for the CHI fellowship (I argued with a masthead for hours last week), the most challenging part of my online exhibit is respectfully displaying and interpreting the quill boxes created by makers in The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa. As most social scientists will tell you, because of the pervasiveness of certain structures of knowledge, we often fail to recognize how colonialism and imperialism have deeply affected our world views. Take maps, for example. While standardized maps may appear to be objective, attempting to present our worldly space in a straight forward way, they are derived from European understandings and partitioning of the globe. Many historians have argued that modern maps obscure how non-European cultures understood space and physical relationships, to say nothing of the Mercator’s misconception issue.
In her piece “Digitizing Indigenous History: Trends and Challenges,” Siobhan Senier raises the many issues that accompany digital archives of indigenous artifacts and history. Her specific focus is on the proble of archive structures and access. While existing archival collections offer opportunities to digitize and share their collections or artifacts, they are still subject to the organization of established archival norms. In the same way that maps may appear to present a systematic, easily recognizable categorization of space, collections on established facilities presuppose the logical order of certain collections. Senier suggests that Mukurtu could serve as an important alternative content management system. By incorporating indigenous curation and/or co-curation and management, indigenous people are empowered to imagine their cultural heritage in an authentic format. Creating these kinds of tools can be challenging, but they provide important spaces for indigenous curation and preservation.
My project will include 3D modeling, mapping, and creating genealogies. As I move forward, I face questions of authenticity and presentation for each of these aspects that will determine what digital tools and mediums are best for these artifacts. There are, of course, many precedents to look toward. Museum scholars such as Deidre Brown, support these efforts to digitize artifacts for preservation and greater access, because cultural heritage held in museums collections fail to serve the community from which they derive. This project aims to contribute to the efforts of other scholars who are “digitizing indigenous history” by creating an authentic space for the presentation of the heritage surrounding quill box makers.