Tribal Collections [Series]: Warm Springs Sound Archives Preservation Project

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Screenshot of the public-facing audio collection from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, via Washington State University’s Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal at https://plateauportal.libraries.wsu.edu/community/confederated-tribes-warm-springs

This series on tribal collections highlights three projects from across the libraries, archives, and museums space that focus on Native American communities and culture, using best practices set forth by the First Archivists Circle’s Protocols for Native American Archival Materials. (Post 1 of 3: The Indigenous Digital Archive)

Post 2 of 3: Warm Springs Sound Archives Preservation Project

The Warm Springs Sound Archives Preservation Project is a collaboration between the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, the Oregon Folklife Network (OFN), and the University of Oregon (UO) Libraries, to digitize analog tribal sound recordings for preservation and access, including very sensitive items, such as Washaat religious songs and ceremonies.

Over the years, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs have collected hundreds of analog video and audio recordings capturing important aspects of their culture, especially language. Analog sound recordings are extremely vulnerable to physical degradation, and this problem is often exacerbated when recordings are stored in libraries and archives where they are not the main materials kept, so they are subject to be mistreated or stored improperly in less-than-ideal conditions. Technological obsolescence and the inability to play back media with available technology and skills is impending for all analog sound recordings. In order to preserve as much language documentation, cultural heritage, and history as possible, the Tribes sought and received grant funding from Oregon Heritage Commission to digitize as much of their media as possible.

The Warm Springs Sound Archives Preservation Project aims to:

  • Increase access to indigenous language sound recordings
  • Preserve media materials most at risk of degradation
  • Preserve materials most valuable to cultural heritage and programming
  • Raise public awareness of Oregon indigenous cultural heritage materials
  • Use best practices to create a collection of Warm Springs cultural recordings

In order to ensure information reliability both in terms of accuracy and persistence, the Warm Springs project partners agreed from the beginning that the Tribes would be the project leaders and make the final decisions in the project, since the recordings belong to them. Collaboratively, a set of local policies and procedures for the project were generated to guide the selection, digitization, and management of the audio material. An audio preservation workstation was installed at the Warm Springs headquarters, and tribal archivists studied the intricacies of preservation recording. In terms of digital preservation and persistence, once digital files are created, checksums are generated and embedded in all audio files. The project is ensuring long term access by separating recording contents from recording carriers before degradation of physical items makes recovery of contents impossible or prohibitively expensive.

So far, the project has digitized over 250 analog cassettes from 1950s-1980s that contain tribal language documentation from “Warm Springs, Wasco, and Paiute peoples, as well as pow wow songs, oral history interviews, stories and legends, and tribal council meetings. Among the most important recordings to the Tribes are those documenting Washaat religious services, the Warm Springs Sahaptin language, and contemporary and historical uses of natural resources in the Columbia River watershed” (“Archiving Project with Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Wins Award | Folklore Program,” 2015). The materials account for over 200 hours of cassette tapes and videos, and 44 hours of reel-to-reel footage.

The Warm Springs Culture and Heritage Language Department has been working with Tribal members and organizations to determine policies of access to the preserved recordings. The Tribes maintain control of their cultural heritage by determining who can access what materials, in accordance with cultural protocols. The Warm Springs project is using Mukurtu software, via the Washington State University Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal, where digital heritage items are published for Tribes across the Northwest. Mukurtu is a Drupal- based platform developed by Washington State University to allow for Tribes to control access to their own digital cultural heritage materials. To view certain restricted items, members must sign in, while other less sensitive materials can be openly viewed by the public.

Like the Indigenous Digital Archive project, the Warm Springs project aims to connect cultural groups with the archival information that is most relevant to them. Because the materials are specific to the Tribes’ culture and history, it makes sense that in many cases only tribal members are allowed to access some of the more culturally sensitive content. Before digitization, the audio content was at risk of being lost as a toll to time. Now, the digital files are more accessible to tribal members for study and learning, to be used in the tribe’s immersion school curriculum and other language revitalization efforts, and in some cases shared more widely with the general public to bring enhanced cultural awareness and understanding. Explore the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs’ collection materials.

More information about the Warm Springs Sound Archive Preservation Project:

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