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Indigenous History in the Borderlands

Guidelines for Stewardship

Guidelines for Stewardship of Archival Materials by or about Indigenous Peoples at the University of Arizona Libraries Special Collections

Inclusive Terminology
Because we are referring to a wide variety of cultures from within and outside the current boundaries of the United States, we have chosen the term Indigenous to refer to cultural political communities and nations such as the Tohono O’odham, Hopi, Seri, and the Tarahumara.

These guidelines adhere and fall into compliance with the Arizona Board of Regents Tribal Consultation Policy 1-118, outlining the institutional processes and procedures of respectful and ethical research and institutional engagements with Indigenous Peoples, and the Guidelines for Research and Institutional Engagement with Native Nations, developed by the University of Arizona’s (UA) Office of Research, Innovation & Impact’s Native Peoples Technical Assistance Office.

Statement of Purpose

The purpose of these guidelines is to affirm the UA Libraries Special Collections’ commitment to uphold conscientious stewardship of archival materials by or about Indigenous Peoples and to provide guidance to researchers regarding access to and use of these materials. As the UA strives to improve existing relationships and develop new relationships with sovereign tribal governments, the following guidelines, developed over a 2-year period, are an endorsed guidance tool for researchers and Special Collections staff. Special Collections recognizes that it is not possible to anticipate or provide for every possible situation that may arise. Any questions regarding the intent or application of these guidelines should be resolved in consideration of the principles articulated in this section.

Guiding Principles

In line with suggested approaches shared in the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials and the antecedent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols for Libraries, Archives, and Information Services, Special Collections has developed an approach of tribal consultation and collaboration for the acquisition of, access to, and use of archival material (both print and digital) by or about Indigenous communities. The approach may extend to other materials such as theses and dissertations as appropriate.

As with most archives and libraries, Special Collections may hold information of a confidential, sensitive, or sacred nature, or, more broadly, information that an Indigenous community may wish to attribute or control. The percentage of material of this nature may be small. “Culturally sensitive” material is a term often used by archives to refer to this kind of information, which may include intellectual or cultural property, sacred knowledge or ceremonial content. However, we define “culturally sensitive” as anything that a particular Indigenous community deems as such. Each Indigenous community may define what constitutes culturally sensitive material differently, and we will use this term with the recognition and acknowledgment that only through conversation with the community can we understand what culturally sensitive means to them.

Our guiding principles are:

  • Special Collections seeks to consult with Indigenous communities to identify culturally sensitive material contained in its collections;
  • Special Collections seeks to consult with Indigenous communities to develop appropriate guidelines on access to, use of, and responsibility of care for culturally sensitive material within its collections; and
  • Special Collections seeks to ensure that researchers requesting access to culturally sensitive material have the appropriate permissions to do so.

Guidelines and Procedures

Special Collections provides access to and allows use of its collections by the academic community and the public, insofar as such access is consistent with the UA Libraries’ responsibility for the care and preservation of the collections and its legal and ethical responsibilities regarding restrictions placed on the materials by donors and copyright legislation. Access to potentially sensitive information related to personal privacy, ceremonial or religious information, personal medical records, and school records may be restricted. Special Collections will make full disclosure, to the extent possible, of its holdings to the public, but such disclosure does not obligate Special Collections to make all materials available for examination. Consistent with the suggested approaches in the Protocols, in cases where there is potentially culturally sensitive material, staff in Special Collections will advise or require a researcher to clear access to and use of material with the associated community through the tribe’s cultural preservation officer or other designated person.

Special Collections may place restrictions or limitations on or deny the use of materials if:

  • there are preservation concerns for fragile materials, or
  • there is potential that material may be culturally sensitive in nature.

Researchers planning on making use of materials related to a particular Indigenous community are encouraged to contact the designated community liaison listed on the Native Peoples Technical Assistance Office Governance and Research Policies webpage.

Researchers may also be directed to the UA’s designated tribal liaison, the Assistant Vice-President for Tribal Relations, in order to be directed to the appropriate community designee for clearing permissions (i.e. Cultural Preservation Officer (CPO) or Cultural Resource Officer (CRO)).

If access is requested to material which may contain culturally sensitive information, and Special Collections has not yet consulted with the relevant Indigenous community(ies), Special Collections may delay responding to the request. This will allow Special Collections time to consult with the community and/or to require that the researcher consult directly with the designated community liaison.

Special Collections may require written consent from the affected tribe’s designated community liaison (i.e. from the CPO or CRO or other designated person(s)).

Given the volume of materials in Special Collections, there may be documents which are culturally sensitive but unrestricted, as in cases where culturally sensitive materials have not been identified and consultation and collaboration has not occurred. It is incumbent on researchers to consider the use of these materials within an ethical framework and request permissions for use with the appropriate entity. Access to material does not imply any use is appropriate.