Alternative Model of Curation Workflow
Through the TK Labels, Local Contexts is working to develop an alternative model of Native/First Nations cultural heritage curation workflow. This workflow offers a new curatorial and collaborative model that addresses the unique problem of public domain materials and third party owned content that is divorced from local communities and missing rich narration and curation.
The traditional digital content lifecycle as represented in this first image is a cycle unto itself – what matters most in this representation model is the process, not the multiple histories and contexts that inform the way in which content has entered into this digital life cycle. For Native/First Nations collections these histories and contexts continue to exert themselves in subtle and not so subtle ways. This persistent echo of history and context is one of the reasons why the traditional model does not work effectively for Native/First Nations collections as it moves into the digital realm. Moreover, the very actions of ‘discovery’, of ‘creation’ and of ‘management’ have culturally specific presumptions about where this content comes from and who has rights to access, modify and reuse.
For Native/First Nations collections, history and context matter and continue to inform cultural heritage collections in the present. This traditional digital life cycle always-already exists within a matrix of protocols and responsibility, researcher production and control and institutional management. Making visible these relationships of production and management (see below image) also highlights key stakeholders invested in developing future models for collaboration over content management and informed sharing: communities, collecting institutions and users. These are the key audiences for the Local Contexts project and for whom the Local Contexts and the TK Labels seek to support.
In the traditional model, when made visible, these stakeholders barely engage with each other. Because of the way in which Native/First Nations collections have been constructed as the same as all others, there is no mechanism which bridges these different histories, expectations and uses of the collections. The TK Labeling initiative is a strategy for making visible and rendering active already existing community practices that have been historically lost, silenced or missing from collections themselves. Added at any time during the digital lifecycle, the flexibility in this labeling strategy is in its capacity to transform each stage of the digital lifecycle in ways that not only enhance collections but also bring about new kinds of meaningful relationships with the communities from which these collections derive.
The act of labeling does disrupt the digital workflow, but for these types of collections this is a necessary moment that has substantial benefits for all stakeholders involved. From a community perspective it adds critical information about ongoing responsibilities to care for and protect culturally sensitive information, as well as to add Indigenous voice into the public historical record. For collecting institutions it opens up collections in new and dynamic ways. It greatly increases institutional capacity to respond to the specificity of Native/First Nations concerns. For some collections, this means making them usable in ways that were previously impossible because of incorrect information, cataloguing or missing metadata. Connecting communities back to their cultural heritage collections initiates new dialogue and develops better understanding and trust – elements that will all have an impact upon the future possibilities for any collection. For researchers and other users, having more information and ethical guidance about how a collection could and should be used fosters capacity for more informed decision-making. A social responsibility is also placed on a user to respect and act ethically in relation to these collections now that more information about them is available. In making the public record richer, different decisions about the future use of collections can be made by users. For instance if a film-maker is searching the ‘Global Sound’ catalogue at the Smithsonian Institution for a piece of music to accompany her film, she is less likely to use material that has been labeled as sensitive by the community itself, thus preventing the community from experiencing disrespectful use of their cultural heritage. If she finds a piece of music that has the attribution label, but is unclear about whether it can be used in a film, she is given information that allows her to directly engage with the community about its potential use. A new relationship, in real time outside the archive, can be established. The TK Labels function as helpful guidelines for the fair and equitable use of Native/First Nations cultural heritage and position ethical standards and sensibility as driving forces in establishing a new paradigm of rights, responsibility and control over these collections.
What TK labeling activates, and our alternative workflow makes visible, is the already interconnected temporality and histories embedded within these collections. More dialogic and dynamic engagements are initiated that:
- Acknowledge Native/First Nations rights to self-define the access and sharing routes for their cultural heritage;
- Build capacity within institutions that know their own difficulties with these collections to act responsibly and ethically; and,
- Change the way in which users of these collections encounter, consume, interpret, understand Native/First Nations cultural practices as integral elements of living and thriving cultures, not subjects of dead cultures within archives.
The labeling initiative initiates a contemporary presence that legislative intervention in the stewardship of digital cultural heritage would be unable to achieve. Thus as an extra-legal mechanism, new futures for these collections and their inherent relationships to all who interact and engage with them, are made possible. The histories and the contexts behind this new workflow are made present, active and dynamic in ways that were traditionally largely ignored. Local Contexts and the TK Labels offer support for direct change in this area, and in doing so open these collections for new and differentiated use and knowledge production.