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Tribal stories posted by Library of Congress irk Native Americans

The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., has posted thousands of hours of Native American recordings and thousands of Native American photographs online over the years.

But some Native American tribal members and groups have an issue with culturally sensitive material being posted, often taken without a tribes’ consent. They argue the material should be tribal property.

Much of the material in question was gathered in the first half of the 20th century by anthropologists and sociologists and produced without the knowledge or consent of the tribes.

It eventually ended up in the Library of Congress – the de facto national library of the U.S. and largest library in the world.

The Library of Congress is the research library that officially serves the U.S. Congress, but also acts as the de facto national library of the U.S. (Photo Library of Congress Facebook)

Anne Richardson, chief of the Rappahannock Tribe of Virginia; Martin Saniga, a member of the Saponi Tribe; and Josh Marshall, a member of the Arapaho Tribe have criticized the practice.

“There are songs about mourning and sending the dead to the afterlife so the anthropologists really had no right to come and make records of these,” Saniga said in a story by the Medill News Service of Northwestern University.

Helena Zinkham, chief of the Library of Congress’ Prints and Photographs Division, said her department did not consult with Indigenous tribes prior to sharing their photographs online, because the materials were already in the library. She also said she received no official complaints from the tribes.

In November 2019, Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, said he wanted those working on digitalization efforts to work with the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to prevent the “potential release of culturally sensitive information.”

Udall is the vice chairman of the committee.

He said that all tribes have a right to maintain, control and protect their cultural sovereignty.

Read the full story by Niko Boskovic of the Medill News Service here.