Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums: 
Guardians of Language, Memory and Lifeways October 2007 conference

Nothing has greater significance for the cultural preservation of our individual tribes than to ensure that we wisely and professionally preserve our history, artifacts, stories, art, and literature for generations to come.  -  Wilma Mankiller, Honorary Conference Chairperson

Five hundred and sixty individuals from 46 states, 3 Canadian provinces and 203 tribes gathered in Oklahoma City October 22-25, 2007 for the second national Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums: Guardians of Language, Memory and Lifeways conference.  The first nationwide conference was in 2005.  The Oklahoma Department of Libraries with support from the Oklahoma Museums Association, Red Earth, Inc., and tribal representatives from throughout the state hosted the event.   

The Oklahoma conference received major funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, and the Western Council of State Libraries, and brought together Native American archivists, librarians, cultural directors, educators, elders, and others concerned with the preservation, management, interpretation, integrity and guardianship of tribal cultural preservation. Sold out at 560 registrants (double the 2005 attendance), the conference encouraged collaboration among tribal entities and non-tribal institutions; presented contemporary issues related to the development of tribal libraries, archives and museums; and provided an opportunity for institutions and individuals to network and build support for tribal cultural institutions and programs.

Renowned Master Artist, Seminole Chief, and retired State Senator, Kelly Haney’s creation, the Guardian was selected for the 2007 conference logo.  Haney’s magnificent work has adorned the top of the Oklahoma Capitol Dome since 2002. Haney’s message to each conference participant as a “Guardian of Culture” was to “Dream big…Work hard…Believe deeply …for this is just the beginning.  Let us all rise to our potential.” 

Oklahoma City as conference host

Oklahoma City was an excellent host.  Home to the nation’s largest state-specific Indian population, native traditions, cultural experiences and artistic expressions are ingrained in the state’s everyday life.  Oklahoma’s tribal cultural centers, museums, libraries, galleries, and historic sites provided admirable venues, and many, including the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Heritage Center , Oklahoma City Library , Oklahoma History Center , the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, and the Oklahoma History Center, hosted pre-conference workshops.

Session highlights and topics

National tribal activist and leader and honorary conference chairperson Wilma Mankiller encouraged participants to share their “experiences with each other and be inspired and challenged to continue your work in preserving, managing, interpreting and maintaining tribal cultural knowledge and tradition.”  Though Mankiller was diagnosed with breast cancer within days of the conference and was not able to attend, she sent a message advocating for cancer awareness and education.  Common Ground Breakfasts, Keynote Speakers, and Native American presentations complemented concurrent sessions.  A wide range of topics were addressed including collection management software and digitization, language documentation, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).  Excellent Native American resources were shared including the electronic publications, Protocols for Native American Archival Materials, and Kappler’s Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties.

The Dewey vs. Library of Congress (LC) classification systems debate permeated several events.  Cataloging presents a unique challenge to many tribal collections: almost everything regarding Native America, games, religion, history, culture, traditionally has existed in Dewey 970.1-970.5 at the nation’s public libraries.  Some work has been done, by Michael McLaughlin, American Indian Resource Center Librarian, County of Los Angeles Public Library, to begin to break specific Native American subject areas out of the 970’s and incorporate them into standard Dewey subject numbers.  Many tribal librarians advocate for LC accepting increased difficulty for increased flexibility to expand classifications.  Conference participants addressed these facts.

Resources, inspired leadership, abound in Oklahoma

Native American materials and resources were abundant at the conference. Alongside the mainstream exhibitors, Facts on File, Metal Edge, Hollinger Corporation, participants also found Eaglecrest Books (readers featuring exclusively Native American children and families), the Cherokee National Historical Society and Singing Wolf Records.  The Oklahoma Library Association had a good supply of autographed Everyday is a Good Day:  Reflections of Contemporary Indigenous Women, and Mankiller: A Chief and Her People by Wilma Mankiller.

Conference Master of Ceremonies Curtis Zunigha guided participants through the 2 ½ day conference, keeping attendees focused, on time and inspired.  Zunigha set the tone for the conference at the opening night reception when he said tribal libraries are places “where the card an Indian carries is a library card,” a moving and historical statement given that Indians were once required to carry identification and proof of employment in the United States.  

For information about California State Library services to tribal libraries, please contact Tribal Libraries Program Consultant Susan Hanks at (916) 653-0661 or email

Save the Date
2009 National Conference of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums: 
Guardians of Language, Memory and Lifeways

October 18 - 22, 2009
Red Lion on the River
Portland, Oregon




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