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Project Description

Documentary Focus: 
For our project, Indian Boarding Schools in Michigan, we want to highlight and re-contextualize the media attention that residential schools in Canada, and their counterpart, boarding schools in the United States received during the summer of 2021. Dominant narratives of traumatic events often sensationalize the damage and present events as a single point in time, relegating them as historical memory. However, these portrayals are not fully accurate. Using Eve Tuck’s ideas of desire-based research and different ideas on how archives represent people, we created this digital archive to demonstrate several ideas:

  • That boarding schools are not distant to the people of Michigan
  • To gain a broad understanding of the broad historical context for their establishment and a notion of the schools’ history 
  • How boarding schools are part of living history for former students and their communities 
  • How Native Americans and their communities showcase their strength and resilience through healing, education, and other initiatives 


Consideration of Archival Concepts and Practices:

A topic centered on the experiences of marginalized communities, particularly the Native American communities in the United States, requires careful consideration of ideas discussed in archival literature. For this project we wanted to incorporate ideas in the field considering ethics and responsibilities of the archivist relating to consent, ownership, etc., as well as how these concepts intersected with those drawn from Indigengous communities.

As we are centering our digital archive on Native American communities in the United States, a significant part of our project focuses on incorporating these concepts in indigenous frameworks. Several examples of United States-centric sources where these concepts are discussed include NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) and Protocols for Native American Archival Materials.  NAGPA focuses on remains of Native Americans alongside “funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony” (U.S. Department of the Interior, 2019, para. 1). However, it could be extended to other items with Native Americans as the subject, leading to a reconsideration of what constitutes ownership of archival material. 

Meanwhile, although endorsed by SAA (Society of American Archivists), the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials are not legally required, but they are critical in giving archivists and archives guidelines working with Native materials and communities, and consider “best professional practices” for  what can be called “culturally responsive care and use of American Indian archival material held by non-tribal organizations” (Protocols, 2007,  pp. 1-2).  For instance, we have attempted to practice the following protocols in our approach and content of our digital archive, not limited to: Striving for Balance in Content and Perspectives, where we adhered to making efforts to include resources not just about Native Americans, but created by them (Protocols, 2007, pp. 7-8), and Providing Context, where when we describe tribal communities, we use preferred terminology (Protocols, 2007, pp. 12-13).  

Such practices can be seen in how we built our digital archive, in which we consulted archives at different scales and formats. These included national archives that were digital such as the Library of Congress and NARA (National Archives and Records Administration), items belonging to digital archives sourced from Michigan from Clarke Historical Library in Mt. Pleasant, and both physical and digital from the Bentley Historical Library. For these items, particularly those relating to individuals, we also had to consider archival practices such as access and use, relying on finding aids and policies about permissions and fair use. Examples of these included collections such as the Warren Petoskey papers and Charles M. Ziegler papers at the Bentley Historical  Library. However, due to COVID restrictions at this time (2021), access to Native archives is restricted for safety and we were unable to use any. As a result, we considered other sources created by tribal members that were publicly accessible. 

Criteria for Record Selection:
Using Eve Tuck’s idea of “desire-based” research as a basis alongside ideas represented in Protocols for Native American Archival Materials, etc., our criteria for record selection was rooted in the following:

  • Materials that helped to historicize the creation of boarding schools at a national level and within the state of Michigan. These included records such as documents sourced from the government on policy, local news, art, and video detailing historical events. 
  • Materials centering on the boarding schools. These are primarily images related to the buildings themselves or the locations in which they were near, past and present, as a method to show evidence of the boarding schools while maintaining privacy. We intended to exclude records that can easily identify persons who directly were forced to attend and those impacted indirectly such as living relatives. 
  • As well as materials showcasing the resilience of Native American communities at differing scales. These include images, text, and video sourced from Native American communities and individuals or with their input and collaboration with others. 


Target User Group:
We aimed our digital archive project at several target user groups that include activists, educators, and students. In particular, we designed Indian Boarding Schools in Michigan as an introductory resource for our users to learn about the broad historical context of boarding schools in the United States, information and materials pertaining to the schools themselves, and the strength and resilience of Native American communities in Michigan through their education and advocacy efforts to show their living culture and process of healing and truth. Furthermore, as part of our digital archive, we included additional resources for users to continue learning and engaging with this topic. We have provided resources such as the National Native American Boarding School Healing Initiative, that provides information on healing, advocacy, and education about Indian boarding schools in the United States, the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan, where users can learn more about Michigan’s tribes, and Indigenous Data Sovereignty, for ways to do research about indigenous communities ethically. 

As part of our efforts, we sought the inclusion of different perspectives in our materials and writing. For our historical context, materials largely showcase the perspective of the United States government during the period of the boarding schools’ initial establishment, which includes ideas of manifest density and the “Indian problem.” The point of view from members of the government also touch on historical materials relating to Michigan boarding schools such as those included in the Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School section. While historical materials lack indigenous perspectives, written content includes references to news articles that contain the stories and experiences from former students. In addition, our Healing page highlights different efforts from indigenous individuals and communities. We centered our section on healing efforts on those that are considered Native-led, to showcase that efforts in healing, etc. have been a continuous effort by Native American communities prior to the news attention in 2021 .