Cline Library Image NAU.PH.2003.11.10.1.A9656 Cline Library Image NAU.PH. Cline Library Image NAU.PH.96.4.334.35 Cline Library Image NAU.PH. Protocols for Native American Archival Materials

The Protocols



Laws and Ethical Codes


Contact Information

First Archivist Circle

Q.        What is the purpose of the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials?
A.        The Protocols were developed to provide best practices for culturally responsive care and use of Native American archival and documentary material held by non-tribal organizations.  The Protocols build upon numerous professional ethical codes; a number of significant international declarations recognizing Indigenous rights, including several now issued by the United Nations; and the ground-breaking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols for Libraries, Archives, and Information Services.
            The proposed standards and goals articulated in Protocols for Native American Archival Materials are meant to inspire and to foster mutual respect and reciprocity.  The Protocols include recommendations for non-tribal libraries and archives as well as Native American communities. View Executive Summary (Precis)

Q.        Who drafted the Protocols
A.        In April 2006 a group of nineteen archivists, librarians, museum curators, historians, and anthropologists gathered at Northern Arizona University Cline Library in Flagstaff, Arizona to identify best professional practices.  The participants represented fifteen Native American, First Nation, and Aboriginal communities.  The document reflects a Native American perspective.  For a list of contributors, please consult the introduction to the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials.

Q.        What is included in the Protocols?
A.        The Protocols address ten topics.

  1. the importance of consultation with and concurrence of tribal communities in decisions and policies
  2. understanding Native American values and perspectives
  3. rethinking public accessibility and use of some materials
  4. the need to recognize and provide special treatment for culturally sensitive materials
  5. providing culturally responsive context
  6. the role of intellectual and cultural property rights
  7. the need to consider copying and sharing of certain materials
  8. the recognition of community-based research protocols and contracts
  9. reciprocal education and training
  10. raising awareness of these issues within the information professions

Q.        What kinds of materials are the Protocols intended to cover?
A.        The Protocols apply specifically to documentary materials, housed in non-tribal libraries and archives, which pertain to Native American communities.  The Protocols do not include best practices for culturally responsive care of objects (artifacts).  Examples of documentary materials in both physical and digital formats include:  photographs, moving images (films), records of tribal governments, field notes, correspondence, research data, oral histories, audio recordings, graphic art, maps, and publications.

Q.        Why should a collecting institution accord a special status to Native American collections or treat Native American communities differently?
A.        Native American communities are sovereign governments.  These governments maintain their own territories, their own laws, and their own legal restrictions surrounding cultural issues. Most Native American communities have Federal recognition, while others hold state recognition.  In Canada, many Native American communities have a similar status through Federal treaties or provincial acknowledgement.  A number of Federal laws in the United States specifically address both cultural and human rights of Native Americans and their communities.   These statuses and associated rights form the basis of the principles behind the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials.    

Q.        My collecting institution would like to consult with the appropriate representatives from a Native American community.  Who do I ask?
A.        Contact the chairman’s office of each tribe that is or may be culturally affiliated with collections held by the archives or library.  Consultation may involve more than one person.  As a professional courtesy, also contact the community’s cultural center, library, or archives and/or the cultural preservation office.  Appropriate personnel will appreciate being included in external discussions with mainstream archives and libraries.
         See:  Bureau of Indian Affairs Tribal Leaders Directory
         National Directory of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums
         American Indian Resource Directory

         National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers

         Aboriginal Canada Portal 

Q.        What if a collecting institution cannot adopt all of the recommended best practices?
A.        Librarians and archivists should be aware that each Native American tribe, band, and community is unique.  The recommended best practices will need to be interpreted and applied by each collecting institution and community.  The contributors believe that libraries, archives, and American Indian communities will benefit from embracing the power of conversation, cooperation, education, negotiation, and compromise.  The Protocols serve as a beginning.

Q.        How can I discover which institutions hold archival materials pertaining to my community?
A.        As a place to begin, collection-level records and/or archival finding guides, can be accessed online through these sites:
         WorldCat OCLC; RLIN; OAIster ;; California Digital Library; The Online Archive          of California; Arizona Archives Online; Online          Archive of New Mexico; Texas Archival Resources Online; Mountain West Digital Library; and Galileo

Q.        Can Native American communities ask libraries or archives to restrict access to published resources?
A.        Published materials are public, unless there is some other legal challenge.  The Protocols encourage collecting institutions to ensure that holdings are comprehensive, inclusive, and reflect all key perspectives on Native American issues.  Institutions should make an effort to collect resources created by rather than just about Native Americans.  The Providing Context section of the Protocols recommends that libraries, archives, and Native American communities enhance context with:

Q.        Can Native American communities request that libraries or archives restrict access to unpublished archival materials?
A.        Not in most cases.  A community would need to prove that the material violates individual or communal privacy rights, was illicitly obtained, or that the collecting institution has no "right of possession."  A library or archives may voluntarily restrict access to culturally sensitive material (sacred or secret), based upon consultation with the community of origin.  See the section entitled Culturally Sensitive Material in the Protocols.

Q.        Does the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) apply to culturally sensitive archival material?
A.        The national NAGPRA committee and state and federal courts have yet to review a case involving documentary materials as opposed to objects.  NAGPRA does not reference archival records or traditional knowledge.  Some institutions have voluntarily, in the spirit of NAGPRA, offered to repatriate culturally sensitive archival materials as sacred and/or patrimonial objects, including images and recordings (i.e. material related to human remains or funerary practices.)  See the Copying and Repatriation section of the Protocols.

Q.        Researchers are engaged in new projects with Native American communities which will generate archival materials that may be deposited with non-tribal organizations.  Can Native American tribes control the acquisition and publication of new data from their own communities?
A.        The Protocols document includes a section on Native American Research Protocols.  Just as many collecting institutions operate under the oversight of an institutional review board for the protection of human subjects, an increasing number of Native American tribes have developed formal research policies and procedures which may require legal contracts or agreements with individual researchers.

Q.        How can I suggest changes or additions to the best practices included in the Protocols?
A.        The contributors welcome your commentary, editorial suggestions, or examples of best practice.  Please send an e-mail to: