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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Precious fragments : First Nations materials in archives, libraries and museums Lawson, Kimberley L.


In order to reconnect the fragments of First Nations knowledge within archives, libraries and museums with the living knowledge in First Nations communities, more bridges between Western and First Nations knowledge systems must be developed. Seepeetza, an Nlakapamux educator and storyteller, characterizes these materials as precious fragments which carry information about traditions and history but are separated from the people who created them. Without cultural, historical and juridical context, these fragments are easily misunderstood and misrepresent the knowledge and culture of their originating communities. This exploratory study is based on expert interviews with ten Canadian First Nations knowledge workers and grounded theory. Most of the participants are either from or work in British Columbia, and the discussion incorporates perspectives from other indigenous groups nationally and internationally. First Nations have worldviews and knowledge systems that are profoundly different from that of Western society. Knowledge systems are the ways that societies manage, organize, use and develop their knowledges. Information can be held by people or entrusted to objects such as books, documents, and artwork. Specific types of objects can have additional value, such as evidentiary, historical, legal and spiritual value. Many of these values and intangible traits depend on context and provenance and are difficult to translate cross-culturally. Reconnecting these materials with their community of origin is necessary to contextualize them. The context is necessary to recover their deeper meanings, facilitate assessment of their trustworthiness and relevance, and strengthen communities. It is critical to share the meaning and evaluate the trustworthiness of information or objects within their cultural and juridical context. It is difficult to understand First Nations information (such as that in cultural objects, records or publications) outside of their cultural, historical, personal or social context. Knowledge is deeper, more meaningful and more useful than information. Information needs to be analyzed, experienced or internalized to become knowledge. Knowledge is wholistic and is in a cultural, juridical, historical, social or personal context while information is fragmentary, decontextualized and can be insignificant. Ideas, information or objects which have been removed from the context of First Nations cultures lose some of their meaning and become "knowledge fragments' rather than knowledge. These fragments are precious to First Nations people who are revitalizing their communities but need to be contextualized. Reconnecting these materials to their community of origin can recover more of their meaningfulness and help First Nations evaluate their trustworthiness. Protocols are critical elements of First Nations knowledge systems that relate to ownership, sacredness, and authenticity of ideas, crests and other intellectual property. First Nations knowledge systems are dynamic and adaptive, as are Western knowledge systems. Transmission of protocols between generations has been disrupted by residential schools. As a result, knowledge which should have been taught to community members has been lost. First Nations communities are recovering cultural knowledge and revitalizing their communities as part of their developing within the modern world. DOCUMENTATION; CAPTURING KNOWLEDGE. First Nations have many concerns about access to and use of First Nations materials in archives, libraries and museums. There are also many concerns about 'capturing knowledge'.... Participants expressed the need to have First Nations ownership of their intellectual property respected as is copyright law. They also express concerns about archives, libraries and museums refusing First Nations access to info and evidence they need. Withholding rather than sharing knowledge is a common way for First Nations to protect it from misuse and exploitation; some participants express concerns that withholding knowledge and information can also be dangerous for First Nations communities. Systems and approaches used by archives, libraries and museums to organize their materials, such as the archival principles of respect for original order and respect des fonds which protects the evidentiary value or archival records, can maintain an object's intangible traits. These systems also can also facilitate access or create barriers to the materials. Many tools for administrative and intellectual control of institutional holdings can help reconnect the precious fragments to their communities of origin. Tools such as inventories, finding aids, guides, union catalogues, descriptions, name authorities and subject analysis are powerful tools to discover and make visible the connections and contexts to restore or protect their meaningfulness and relationships to First Nations and to other materials. These systems are based on western principles and lack some of the concepts and protocols which make First Nations knowledge meaningful. In order for the materials themselves, as well as the deeper meaning to be accessible to First Nations researchers within archives, libraries and museums, either the system or the researcher must be able to translate between the different knowledge systems. Some First Nations knowledge centres are encoding their own concepts into archives, libraries and museums systems. In most other systems, it is the researcher who must make the necessary translations. Developing networks and working relationships between different professions and between First Nations and mainstream institutions provides opportunity to share resources, problems and insights.

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