Today, a renewed spirit of indigenous activism coincides with the homecoming of some Passamaquoddy cultural artifacts. Audio engineers at the Library of Congress are using new technologies to convert rare, historical recordings into a much cleaner digital format, and, in a Native-first approach to archival work, the library is giving the tribe curatorial control.

Kimberly Christen.

The return of the Passamaquoddy archive involves the work of a large interdisciplinary team. There are, in addition to the librarians and engineers at the American Folklife Center, two academics who specialize in digital repatriation: Kim Christen, professor of English and director of the Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation at Washington State University; and Jane Anderson, at New York University.

Christen manages an open-source content-management program called Mukurtu. Since its launch, several years ago, the software has been used by more than six hundred groups, including the Passamaquoddy, to curate their own Web sites and regulate access in accordance with custom. On the Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal, for example, members of eight participating tribes can log in to view materials specific to their community; the Web site of the Warumungu tribe restricts access to certain items according to gender.

The tool is not only for First Nations; Terry Baxter, an archivist in Oregon, is helping Don’t Shoot Portland, a civil-rights group that opposes police violence, use Mukurtu to organize everything from children’s drawings to protest announcements.

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