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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 10, 2004 - Issue 104


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Nooksack Tribe starts work to save its history

by Kari Shaw, The Bellingham Herald

Bolstered by federal grants, the Nooksack Tribe is starting 2004 with an effort at preserving its ancient history, language and its recent history as a federally recognized tribe.

The grants are humble - one totaling only $5,000 - but the dream is big.

The groundwork laid last year and the new grants this year - and a hired archivist storing historic land deeds and 1970s tribal council ordinances on compact discs - could lead to a space to house sensitive ancient artifacts, said Tribal Administrator Pat Check.

Many of the tribe's historic documents and artifacts are scattered across the country in universities and museums. But a 1990 federal law, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, provides the tools for tribes to get their funerary objects and skeletons back.

In September, the National Archives and Records Administration awarded the Nooksack Tribe a $43,526 grant to fund a tribal archivist position.

The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded the Nooksack Tribe a $5,000 Humanities Preservation and Access grant on Monday. The grant pays for a consultant to teach a workshop in preservation for the tribe's archival staff.

It was one of two grants given to Washington organizations out of $5.5 million in grants awarded nationwide. The other was $4,823 to the University of Washington's Seattle libraries to assess a collection of architectural drawings.

The Nooksack Tribe also has a grant to research what organizations possess their artifacts. The American Museum of Natural History in New York has both Lummi and Nooksack human remains in its collections, according to a 2001 Department of the Interior inventory.

Research center

Although the tribe opened its first museum and library in September 2002, the temporary buildings do not have the materials needed to safely store fragile and sensitive documents and objects.

"We are always looking for funding for the kind of facility where we can store artifacts," Check said.

First, the tribe is working on storing documents in acid-free folders, scanning them to discs and writing a records management manual.

The documents range from original land deeds dating to the early 1900s to tribal council ordinances passed since the Carter administration.

Once complete, the store of tribal data will be open for research by tribal members, Check said. The tribe does not have a process by which nonmembers can gain access to the archives, although the tribal government likely will define one.

"What we are doing now is going through it all with a little more fine-toothed comb and getting stuff we can get onto compact discs," Check said.

The archivist's biggest challenge is itemizing tribal council meetings from the 1970s to today so members can search easily for dates and text of laws, he said.

Right now, all of that material is stored by year in different departments, but there is no central clearinghouse.

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