By BERT GAMBINI
Published March 27, 2023
The College of Arts and Sciences has received a $500,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to support implementation of an indispensable, community-driven digital resource for the collection, preservation and dissemination of Indigenous research, teaching and learning.
The Haudenosaunee Archive, Resource and Knowledge (HARK) portal represents the next phase of work at UB previously supported by a $175,000 planning grant from the Mellon Foundation in 2021.
“With the continuing support from the Mellon Foundation, the HARK portal will be an invaluable resource to help provide students, faculty and the community an immersive experience,” says Robin Schulze, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “This recent support is part of the ongoing work to honor Indigenous land, build pathways for scholarship and preserve knowledge for students, scholars and the community.”
UB operates on the traditional territory of the Seneca Nation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and the portal further builds upon the legacy of Indigenous studies at UB, which began in 1972 with the founding of the university’s Native American Studies program. That program, one of the first of its kind in the field of higher education, offered a curriculum that laid the groundwork for UB’s new Department of Indigenous Studies. With renewed energy, generously supported by the Mellon Foundation through its $3.174 million grant to the university in 2019, the department is creating even more paths forward in community-engaged education.
“Indigenous Studies at UB has focused much of its scholarship on the culture of the lands upon which the university operates, and is recognized for its combination of community engagement, grassroots activist scholarship and land-based learning,” says the grant’s principal investigator, Theresa McCarthy, (Six Nations, Onondaga), associate professor and director of Indigenous studies. “The HARK portal will document, honor and advance that tradition.”
Based on work that emerged from the planning grant, the Department of Indigenous Studies will create “The Haudenosaunee Hub,” an essential digital networking infrastructure that links cultural heritage items to community needs.
“The hub is people and resources,” McCarthy explains. “The portal will be the product of that infrastructure.”
Over the next few months, the Department of Indigenous Studies will hire additional people who will manage the hub: a digital applications librarian and an Indigenous community archivist. The digital librarian will help build the portal, using a digital access tool (Mukurtu) built for, and with the assistance of, Indigenous communities. The community archivist will assemble the materials populating its first content site, dedicated to chronicling the 50-year legacy of Native American Studies at UB, and seek community input.
“In developing the technology infrastructure that will serve as the foundation for the HARK portal, we will be building a comprehensive digital resource that collects, preserves and shares Indigenous knowledge,” says Evviva Weinraub Lajoie, vice provost for university libraries. “Drawing on the expertise and insight to the Haudenosaunee community, this portal will deliver a wealth of information for researchers and scholars on the rich history, language and traditions to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.”
Mishuana Goeman (Tonawanda Band of Seneca), chair of the Department of Indigenous Studies and the grant’s co-principal investigator, brings her experience leading the Mukurtu California Native Hub to the current project.
“The digital realm of Mukurtu enables communities to have control over the way they represent themselves. It is also a wonderful teaching tool that bridges generations. This initiates discussions both within communities and outside as others learn and curate their own materials,” she says. “I am thrilled to be involved in this grant in my home Haudenosaunee territories as our people have so many stories and talents to bring to the table for future generations. The ability to create our own stories through the platform is key to the project of Indigenous studies at UB.”
Since the early 1970s, faculty, staff, students and surrounding community members have produced materials currently in the public domain. However, these materials have not been digitized and are not curated in ways that tie the work to UB’s legacy of Indigenous studies, research and scholarship. It is neither networked or assembled in a fashion that tells the story about the contribution UB has made to Haudenosaunee studies locally, nationally and internationally, according to Mia McKie (Tuscarora Nation, Turtle Clan), clinical assistant professor of Indigenous studies, and co-principal investigator.
“We want to tell that story,” McKie says. “Utilizing published and publicly available materials serves as an ethical starting point for this project, to avoid digitizing materials that may be identified as sensitive or sacred.
“This approach offers us a way to demonstrate how digital publication may shift and impact broader relationships toward the materials. Furthermore, using materials found in the public domain also incorporates a learning curve if communities are uncomfortable with digitizing certain materials, while also fostering community dialogue, an essential element of the project.”
That dialogue will be realized through ongoing support the hub can provide to other Indigenous archival initiatives and repositories on regional Haudenosaunee territories to further explore how the digitization of cultural heritage materials can expand possibilities for access, engagement and networking in ways that meet community needs and priorities.
Communities have different kinds of aspirations for digital archival work, but often lack the staffing and resources to achieve their goals, according to McCarthy.
In addition to its digital work and capacity building at UB, the hub will also be available to Indigenous communities to draw from. It will support, serve and help connect various community-based “spokes,” such as other Indigenous repositories, cultural centers, community-based archival initiatives and interested individual Haudenosaunee cultural heritage preservationists and artists.
“Nothing like this exists for us, despite the profound need to facilitate a network for information sharing across our Confederacy, to transcend boundaries and borders now cross-cutting our Haudenosaunee homelands that have sought to separate and divide us,” says McCarthy. “This grant allows us to build what’s necessary to keep this information and knowledge accessible to the people and places from where it originates — which is fundamental to sovereignty.”
Historically, these materials have gone to collecting facilities located off Confederacy territories, making it hard for Haudenosaunee people to engage with the material, according to McCarthy.
“There is a purpose to this knowledge that’s realized through access and engagement,” says McCarthy. “People want to engage with material to pass on knowledge, to create new knowledge, to revitalize language and to reinvigorate cultural practices.
“People should have access to information about themselves.”
That access builds a relationship with knowledge.
“That relationship can inform lifeways and practices that we need today. And that has always been an important thread in Haudenosaunee studies at UB,” says McCarthy. “It’s the belief that we’re producing knowledge in the present that is future oriented, but also that we have ancestral knowledge to preserve and share that’s equally important to our present and future.
“This project is an extension of that.”
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding. The foundation believes the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence and freedom that can be found there. Through its grants, the foundation seeks to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive.