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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Repatriation, digital technology, and culture in a northern Athapaskan community Hennessy, Kate


Many Canadian First Nations and Aboriginal organizations are using digital media to revitalize their languages and assert control over the representation of their cultures. At the same time, museums and academic institutions are digitizing their ethnographic collections to make them accessible to originating communities. As the use of digital media becomes standard practice both in the production of ethnographic objects and the “virtual repatriation” of cultural heritage, new questions are being raised regarding copyright, intellectual property, ownership, and control of documentation in digital form. In this dissertation, based on collaborative ethnographic multimedia production work with the Doig River First Nation (Dane-ẕaa) in northeastern British Columbia, I follow the transformation of intangible cultural expression into digital cultural heritage, and its return in the form of a digital archive to Dane-ẕaa communities. I explore how new access to digitized ethnographic documentation has facilitated local media production, and argue that these productions are acts of remediation of digital cultural heritage that resignify the products of ethnographic research in Dane-ẕaa communities. Through the lens of the collaborative production of the Virtual Museum of Canada exhibit Dane Wajich–Dane-ẕaa Stories and Songs: Dreamers and the Land, I show how local control over efforts to safeguard intangible heritage resulted in the implementation of a documentary methodology that modeled the appropriate transmission of culture in Dane-ẕaa social practice. The participatory production process of the virtual exhibit also facilitated expressions of Dane-ẕaa intellectual property rights to cultural heritage. Using the example of the digitization of photographs of early twentieth-century Dane-ẕaa nááchę (dreamers’) drums, and the community’s subsequent decision to remove them from the virtual museum exhibit, I explore how new articulations of Dane-ẕaa rights to control the circulation and representation of their digital cultural heritage are guided by knowledge of Dane-ẕaa nááchę, traditional protocols for the handling and care of material culture, and by contemporary political concerns and subjectivities.

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