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Digital Projects Toolkit: Indigenous Materials

Digitizing Indigenous Materials


According to the ND Tribal Governments webpage, "North Dakota’s tribal communities have shaped our state’s history. Though individual tribes have distinct and different origins, histories and languages, Plains Indians are united by core beliefs and values including respect for the earth and humankind’s relationship with nature."

The ND Tribal Nations webpage says there "are five federally recognized Tribes and one Indian community located at least partially within the State of North Dakota. These include the Mandan, Hidatsa, & Arikara Nation (Three Affiliated Tribes), the Spirit Lake Nation, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Nation, and the Trenton Indian Service Area."

Tribal history and culture are important aspects of local, state, and national memory and must be respected.


Typically, digitization projects seek to provide open access to materials. However, when it comes to tribal materials, it is important to set aside these "western" notions and be aware of the ethical and cultural considerations associated with use and access.

Tribal nations have the right to "maintain control of their knowledge and cultural materials based on their communities’ cultural protocols, and add their expertise and narratives to the public record" (Recollection Wisconsin).

Collaboration, therefore, is key. Establishing and building relationships with tribal communities, listening, showing care and respect, and incorporating their knowledge and culture will create better collections.

Key Considerations

According to Recollection Wisconsin, these are things to consider when working with Indigenous communities:

  • Be respectful in your consultation with tribes and build trust. Building respectful relationships may take years to develop, be patient.
  • Listen, have an open-mind, and strive to understand Indigenous perspectives and ways of knowing. Tribal members have a wealth of knowledge and expertise, which should be valued.
  • Be equal partners, building meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships where outcomes can benefit tribal communities and institutions.
  • Sustain your relationships, so your projects and partnerships can evolve and grow together.

Resources & Additional Reading

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Many of these resources and programs are funded under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.