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

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Protocols for Native American Archival Materials

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The archives, the record, can provide not only our people but all people enlightenment, and hopefully a better humanity will result.
Kathryn “Jody” Beaulieu (Anishinabe/Ojibwe)

Native American communities are sovereign governments.  Tribes had their own traditional governments prior to European invasion.  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.  Native Hawaiians are accorded special status by both federal law and state law.  A number of federal laws in the United States specifically address both cultural and human rights of Native Americans and their communities.  While we share a common commitment to the preservation and dissemination of knowledge, archivists and librarians should understand and respect Native American rights and laws, which are recognized in the United States Constitution.  These statuses and associated rights form the basis of the principles behind the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials.    

Over the past decade, tribal leaders, archivists, and librarians in the United States and Canada have expressed an interest in improving existing relationships and developing new relationships with non-tribal institutions which hold American Indian archival material.  Numerous professional groups support this goal, such as the Society of American Archivists, the Council for the Preservation of Anthropological Records, the American Indian Library Association, the International Indigenous Librarians Forum, and the American Association for State and Local History.  These Protocols outline many opportunities for collecting organizations to cooperate with Native communities. 

In April 2006 a group of nineteen Native American and non-Native American archivists, librarians, museum curators, historians, and anthropologists gathered at Northern Arizona University Cline Library in Flagstaff, Arizona.   The participants included representatives from fifteen Native American, First Nation, and Aboriginal communities.    The group met to identify best professional practices for culturally responsive care and use of American Indian archival material held by non-tribal organizations. 

Human rights themes, such as understanding Native American values and perspectives and providing contexts for Native American archival materials, repeatedly emerged in the discussions.  Related policy and legal topics included:

The Protocols build upon numerous professional ethical codes (Society of American Archivists, American Association for State and Local History, American Anthropological Association, and the Oral History Association); 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 contributors to these North American best practices hope that the lines of communication opened by this work will serve as the genesis for an ongoing national discussion around different approaches to the management, preservation, and transmission of Native American knowledge and information resources.  These Protocols urge archivists and librarians to consider Native American perspectives on professional policy and practice issues.

The proposed standards and goals articulated in Protocols for Native American Archival Materials are meant to inspire and to foster mutual respect and reciprocity.   Institutions and communities are encouraged to adopt and adapt the culturally responsive recommendations to suit local needs.  New issues for consideration will undoubtedly arise as the best practices are debated and implemented.  The contributors intend this document to be a work in progress—subject to revision and enhancement. 

North American libraries, archives, and American Indian communities will benefit from embracing the power of conversation, cooperation, education, negotiation, and compromise.  As Sven Haakanson, Jr., (Alutiiq/Sugpiaq) reinforces in Caring for American Indian Objects:  A Practical and Cultural Guide,. . . it takes human connections to make positive changes happen.”1  


The Protocols project received generous support from the American Library Association Office for Diversity, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the National Library of Medicine, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, The Bay and Paul Foundations, the Northern Arizona University Institute for Native Americans, and Mary and P. David Seaman.

The contributors wish to thank the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Library and Information Resource Network for permission to draw upon the language and ideas presented in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols for Libraries, Archives, and Information Services.


Kathryn “Jody” Beaulieu
Director, Red Lake Tribal Library Records Center and Archives
Briana Bob
Colville Confederated Tribes
Archivist, Archives & Records Center

Sheree Bonaparte
Tribal Historic Preservation Officer
Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe
Steve Crum
Professor, Native American Studies
University of California at Davis
Amelia Flores
Library/Archive Director
Mohave Colorado River Indian Tribes
Alana Garwood-Houng
Yorta Yorta Nation
Senior Family History Officer
Australian Institute for Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Studies
David George-Shongo
Seneca Nation
Eunice Kahn
Archivist, Navajo Nation Museum
Stewart Koyiyumptewa
Hopi Tribe
Archivist, Hopi Cultural Preservation Office
Kim Lawson
Heiltsuk Nation
Librarian, Institute of Indigenous Government /
Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs
Robert Leopold
National Anthropological Archives
Smithsonian Institution
Gloria Lomahaftewa
Hopi Tribe
NAGPRA Specialist
Museum of Northern Arizona
James D. Nason
Emeritus Professor of Anthropology
Emeritus Director of Museology
Emeritus Curator of Pacific and American
Ethnology, Burke Museum
University of Washington
Lotsee Patterson
Professor, School of Library Science
University of Oklahoma
Richard Pearce-Moses 
President, Society of American Archivists
Director, Digital Government Information
Arizona State Library, Archives, and Public Records
Jennifer R. Walele
Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde/Chinook
U.S. Department of State
Office of the Assistant Legal Adviser for Treaty Affairs
Alyce Sadongei
Kiowa/Tohono O’odham
Assistant Curator for Native American Relations
Arizona State Museum
Karen J. Underhill
Head, Special Collections and Archives
Northern Arizona University Cline Library


These Protocols are presented to guide libraries and archives in engaging in culturally responsive care of Native American archival materials and in providing culturally appropriate service to communities.  Librarians and archivists should be aware that each tribe, band, and community is unique.  The recommended best practices will need to be interpreted and applied by each collecting institution and community. 

The Protocols address:


Table of Contents

Building Relationships of Mutual Respect
Striving for Balance in Content and Perspectives
Accessibility and Use
Culturally Sensitive Materials
Providing Context
Native American Intellectual Property Issues
Copying and Repatriation of Records to Native American Communities
Native American Research Protocols
Reciprocal Education and Training
Awareness of Native American Communities and Issues


Building Relationships of Mutual Respect

Native American communities have had extensive first-hand experience with the ways that information resources held in distant institutions can impact their quality of life, their practice of religion, and their future as a people—sometimes with disastrous consequences, sometimes to their benefit.  Libraries and archives must recognize that Native American communities have primary rights for all culturally sensitive materials that are culturally affiliated with them.  These rights apply to issues of collection, preservation, access, and use of or restrictions to these materials.

Collecting institutions and Native communities are encouraged to build relationships to ensure the respectful care and use of archival material.  Meaningful consultation and concurrence are essential to establishing mutually beneficial practices and trust.  Through dialogue and cooperation, institutions and communities can identify mutually beneficial solutions to common problems and develop new models for shared stewardship and reciprocity or for the appropriate transfer of responsibility and ownership for some materials.

Archives and libraries guidelines for action:

             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                                        


Native American communities guidelines for action:

             WorldCat OCLC
             California Digital Library
             The Online Archive of California
             Arizona Archives Online
             Online Archive of New Mexico
             Texas Archival Resources Online
             Mountain West Digital Library


Striving for Balance in Content and Perspectives

We’re not looking at an issue paper by paper or record group by record group.  It’s a whole system of a way of life.  Our knowledge systems don’t make sense without spirituality.  We are asking for respect for a system of knowledge.
Kim Lawson (Heiltsuk Nation)             

Native American communities and collecting institutions share a desire to preserve cultural heritage and to serve as a bridge between the past, present, and future.  However, differences exist in values, culture, knowledge systems, and approaches to learning.  How should the needs of North American Indian tribes be balanced with a democratic society as a whole? 

Archivists and librarians taught to champion intellectual freedom and unfettered access to resources may be troubled by the notion that in Native American and other Indigenous communities knowledge can be collectively owned and that access to some knowledge may be restricted as a privilege rather than a right.  These views of information are not irreconcilable, given that archives and libraries often contain restricted materials, classified materials, secret materials, or materials that may not be accessed until some future date.  Native American communities and individuals may also need to achieve an appropriate balance of rights and understandings with respect to archival materials and traditional knowledge.  Archives and libraries should work with Native American communities on these issues as they apply to the general public. 

Archives and libraries guidelines for action:


Native American communities guidelines for action:


Accessibility and Use

Native American requests for increased access to and sometimes control over information resources found in non-tribal collecting institutions is in keeping with current professional codes of ethics.  These ethical codes (i.e., Society of American Archivists, American Library Association, American Association for State and Local History) instruct librarians and archivists to practice neutrality and to strive toward open and equal access for all patrons, in accordance with the law, cultural sensitivities, and institutional policy.  Restrictions may be placed on a collection for reasons of group and individual privacy, confidentiality, or security.  (See Culturally Sensitive Materials.)

Questions of access, ownership, and control of Native American archival material can prompt philosophical and practical concerns, particularly when there is inadequate information about community sovereignty and associated legal rights, community ownership of original source information, initial community restrictions on information sharing and distribution, and other related issues. 

Archives and libraries guidelines for action:


Culturally Sensitive Materials

Most archives and libraries hold information of a confidential, sensitive, or sacred nature.  The amount of this material may constitute a small percentage of the entire collection.  For Native American communities the public release of or access to specialized information or knowledge—gathered with and without informed consent—can cause irreparable harm.  Instances abound of misrepresentation and exploitation of sacred and secret information.  Each community will understand and use the term “culturally sensitive” differently, although there are broad areas of common agreement for Native Americans about this issue. 

Privacy rights extend to groups in some situations.  The limited right of organizations, governments, and families to associate in confidence may apply to American Indian tribes who wish to minimize or prevent intrusion into their practices. Tribal groups have societies, bands, and clans that may be privileged vis-à-vis information.  Archivists and librarians should understand that “the privacy of the information itself may be more paramount.”2  

Archives and libraries guidelines for action:

Examples of the kinds of archival materials—both human readable and digital—which may be culturally sensitive from a Native American perspective include: 

Still and Moving Images (Photographs and Films)/Graphic Art


Cartographic Materials

Records/Documents/Ephemera/Grey Literature/Theses and Dissertations/Published Texts


Providing Context

A primary task for libraries and archives is to organize and describe information resources for efficient and effective retrieval.  Collecting institutions also wish to share as much context as possible to enhance the value of resources for patrons.  However, the use of outdated, inaccurate, derogatory, or Eurocentric language impedes access.  Descriptive information can be improved with the addition of culturally appropriate and accurate language—from original titles through finding aids.  Native American communities should be aware that offensive language or other injurious perspectives and information may be inherent in the content of some of the original materials.

 Archives and libraries guidelines for action:

Native American communities guidelines for action:


Native American Intellectual Property Issues

We belong to the “property;” it doesn’t belong to us.  We (my people-Onkwehonwe) belong to our land, our medicines, our communities, our philosophies, and our way of life.  All these elements endure over time; we come and go.
Sheree Bonaparte (Mohawk/Akwesasne)            

What is required at this moment is a fundamental acceptance that intellectual property and most especially esoteric knowledge are vital components of the living cultural heritage of Native American communities.    . . . a way must be found to acknowledge and implement appropriate Native American controls over such knowledge.
James D. Nason (Comanche)
Borrowed Power:  Essays on Cultural Appropriation     

Numerous international declarations, many of which have been adopted by the United Nations, state that protection of cultural heritage and traditional knowledge is a right of Indigenous peoples.  As Australian solicitor Terri Janke (Meriam, Wuthathi and Yadaighana Nations) observes, one problem with copyright from an Indigenous perspective is that it expires and protects authors and publishers but not the interests of those whose culture is described or depicted. Indeed, Western copyright laws are based on principles which are diametrically opposite to Indigenous legal approaches to knowledge.  Virtually every Indigenous society has traditions and laws regarding specialized knowledge, yet these practices are not recognized by Western law.

Existing copyright legislation does not address issues of significance to Native American communities such as:  community ownership of works and management of rights; community interests in public disclosure of religious or sensitive information; protection of older or ancient works (e.g., rock art); the antiquity and accumulative nature of traditional knowledge; and the protection of oral traditions, songs, and other culturally sensitive intangible property.  In some cases, Native American knowledge has been copyrighted by outsiders without appropriate permissions or approval.

Archives and libraries guidelines for action:


Copying and Repatriation of Records to Native American Communities

The draft U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Populations and the 1993 The Mata’atua Declaration on Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognize a fundamental right to protect traditional knowledge.  Cultural patrimony is understood to mean any property (tangible or intangible) that is owned by a community as a whole, or by a group which holds such property in trust for the community, is inalienable except by community consent, and which may be fundamental elements of a community’s cultural identity and heritage.7  

In the United States, a network of laws addresses cultural heritage protection, notably the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act and the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).  The impact of NAGPRA has been largely positive as institutions and communities engage in conversations and often rewarding partnerships.  NAGPRA not only recognized the sovereignty of tribes but also:

Does the NAGPRA definition of “cultural patrimony” apply to culturally sensitive archival materials?  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.

Archives and libraries guidelines for action:


Native American communities guidelines for action:


Native American Research Protocols

Collecting institutions are dedicated to public education, research, and service.  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 to defend against misappropriation and abuse of traditional knowledge.

Institutions and communities benefit when research is conducted in accordance with the highest possible ethical and legal standards.  Community research protocols cover topics such as:  intellectual property rights, ownership of data and subsidiary products, research controls, risks, informed consent, community rights, access, right of review, confidentiality, deposit with a tribally-designated repository, preference in employment and training, and safeguarding individual and communal privacy.   


Archives and libraries guidelines for action:


Native American communities guidelines for action:


Reciprocal Education and Training

It is much easier to teach someone library and archives skills than to try to teach them a culture.
Lotsee Patterson (Comanche)            

The nature of our society and the information professions is dynamic.  Archivists and librarians need to accelerate the acceptance of different approaches to designing and deploying knowledge management systems and to welcome Native American practitioners as equal partners in caring for cultural heritage.  Cross-cultural training and exchange will enrich collecting institutions, communities, and academia.  Organizations should strive to build a staff and governing structure that reflect the composition of communities served.


Archives and libraries guidelines for action:

Native American communities guidelines for action:

             The Knowledge River program ( at the University of Arizona
             Honoring Generations:  Developing the Next Generation of Native Librarians              ( at the University of Texas at Austin
             The School of Library and Information Studies ( at the University of              Oklahoma. 

          For scholarships and American Indian college resources, see: 
             American Library Association Spectrum Initiative              (
             Index of Native American College Resources              (


Awareness of Native American Communities and Issues

 Most archivists and librarians in the United States and Canada are well-intentioned and want to “do the right thing” when it comes to culturally respectful care and use of Native American archival materials.   Who do you ask?  How do you know?  What if “I can’t do that!” is the initial reaction?  As Protocols contributor Richard Pearce-Moses (Arizona State Library, Archives, and Public Records) joked, “Our hearts are in the right place, but maybe not our heads.”

The Protocols for Native American Archival Materials are intended to assist in answering these questions.  All parties are encouraged to keep in mind the power of building relationships of mutual respect between collecting institutions and communities and the advantages to be derived from balancing different approaches to the collection, preservation, and transmission of knowledge.   Non-tribal archivists and librarians should also remember the unique status of Native American communities as sovereign governments with associated rights. 

Archives, libraries, and Native American communities guidelines for action:


Brief Glossary of Terms

Cultural patrimony
            Any property (tangible or intangible) that is owned by a community as a whole, or by a group which             holds such property in trust for the community, is inalienable except by community consent, and             which may be a  fundamental element of a community’s cultural identity and heritage.

Culturally responsive
             Tailored actions which demonstrate awareness and appreciation of the needs of a particular             group, community, or nation.

Culturally sensitive
            Tangible and intangible property and knowledge which pertains to the distinct values, beliefs, and             ways of living for a culture.   It often includes property and knowledge that is not intended to be             shared outside the community of origin or outside of specific groups within a community. (See the             list of information that is potentially cultural sensitive.)

Memorandum of Agreement
            A formal written document between two parties (a Native American community and a collecting
            institution) which may or may not be binding regarding a course of action or activities.

Native American
             Refers to Indian (First Nations), Eskimo (Inuit), and Aleut individuals and   
             communities in the United States and Canada as well as to Native Hawaiians.

            Anything that can be possessed or disposed of in a legal manner.

             Intellectual (Intangible) property
            Personal property, including Native American cultural heritage, that could be subject to copyright,             patents, trademarks, franchise agreement, business goodwill, and droit de suite.

            Tangible property
            Personal property in the form of any physical object with intrinsic value that is not
             real property (land, buildings, minerals, etc.) or intangible property.

            In the United States, the transfer of all legal rights to and physical custody of  Native American             cultural materials to lineal descendants, culturally affiliated Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian             organizations.

            This term refers to tribal community information or knowledge that is kept from general public             knowledge and is held in trust or owned by individuals or groups within the community.  No single             English word has the range of meanings associated with this kind of information of knowledge as it             is meant in communities, and different communities may also have different perspectives on this.             Such information or knowledge might be thought of as privileged or confidential, and may have             restricted access, for example.

            Supremacy of authority or rule; independence and self-government.  A territory existing as a             separate state.

Traditional knowledge
            Valued knowledge which is individually or communally owned in accord with established community             rules of ownership; often sacred or sensitive and requiring specialized training or status for             inheritance or use; often held in trust for a community by an individual; may include songs, oral             traditions, customs, and specialized knowledge.


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols for Libraries, Archives, and Information

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Library and Information Resource Network

American Anthropological Association Code of Ethics

American Association for State and Local History Code of Ethics

American Library Association Code of Ethics

Assembly of First Nations and the Canadian Museums Association “Task Force Report
            on Museums and First Peoples” Museum Anthropology  June 1992, Vol. 16 (2)   

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
           Guide to Ethical Research in Indigenous Studies

Brown, Michael F. “Can Culture Be Copyrighted?” Current Anthropology April 1998

_____. “Cultural Records in Question:  Information and Its Moral Dilemmas”
            Cultural Resource Management National Park Service Vol. 21 (6) 1998

_____. Who Owns Native Culture? Cambridge, Mass:  Harvard University Press, 2003

Byrne, Alex, Alana Garwood, Heather Moorcroft, and Alan Barnes.  Aboriginal and
            Torres Strait Islander Protocols for Libraries, Archives, and Information Services  
            Deakin, ACT:  Australian Library and Information Association, 1995

Calliou, Brian.  “Methodology for Recording Oral Histories in the Aboriginal
            Community” Native Studies Review Vol. 15 (1) 2004

Coffey, Wallace and Rebecca Tsosie.  “Rethinking the Tribal Sovereignty Doctrine: 
            Cultural Sovereignty and the Collective Future of Indian Nations” Stanford Law
            and Policy Review Vol. 12 (2) 2001

Cooper, Amy. “Issues in Native American Archives” Collection Management Vol. 27 (2)

Copyright Basics (U.S.Copyright Office)

Council for the Preservation of Anthropological Records (CoPAR)
    and  Ethical Use of Anthropological Records
           (CoPAR Bulletin 10)

Fleckner, John A.  Native American Archives:  An Introduction Chicago:  Society of
           American Archivists, 1984

Freedom of Information Act and

Greaves, Tom, ed. Intellectual Property Rights for Indigenous Peoples:  A Source Book
           Oklahoma City, Okla:  Society for Applied Anthropology, 1994

_____. “Examining Indigenous Rights to Culture in North America” Cultural Dynamics
           Vol. 14 (2) 2002

Gulliford, Andrew.  Sacred Objects and Sacred Places:  Preserving Tribal Traditions
            Boulder:  University of Colorado, 2000

Hendry, Joy.  Reclaiming Culture:  Indigenous People and Self-Representation
            Palgrave Macmillan, 2005

Hopi Tribe Research Protocols

Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Intellectual Property Rights: An Enabling Tool for   Development with            Identity

Janke, Terri.  Our Culture, Our Future:  Report on Australian and Indigenous Cultural
            and Intellectual Property Rights  Surrey Hills, N.S.W.:  Michael Frankel, 1998

Lawson, Kimberley L.  Precious Fragments:  First Nations Materials in Archives,
            Libraries, and Museums Vancouver:  University of British Columbia, 2004

Lind, Robert C. Art and Museum Law Durham: NC:  Carolina Academic Press, 2002

Lomawaima, K. Tsianina.  “Tribal Sovereigns:  Reframing Research in American Indian
            Education” Harvard Educational Review Spring Vol. 70 (1) 2000

The Mata’atua Declaration on Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights of Indigenous

Model Law for the Protection of Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Innovations, and

Nakata, Martin et. al. Mapping the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols for
            Libaries, Archives, and Information Services  University of Technology Sydney,

Nakata, Martin and Marcia Langton.  Australian Indigenous Knowledge and Libraries
           Canberra:  Australian Academic & Research Libraries, 2005

Nason, James D. “Native American Intellectual Property Rights:  Issues in the Control of
           Esoteric Knowledge” in Bruce Ziff and Pratima V. Rao, ed. Borrowed Power: 
           Essays on Cultural Appropriation New Brunswick, N.J.:  Rutgers University
           Press, 1997

_____. “Traditional Property and Modern Laws: The Need for Native American
            Community Intellectual Property Rights Legislation” Stanford Law and
           Policy Review Spring Vol.12 (2) 2001

_____. “Tribal Research:  Tribal Models for Controlling Research” Tribal College
            Journal Fall Vol. 8 (2) 1996

National Museum of the American Indian “Native Languages Archives Repository
           Project, Reference Guide” (Unpublished) March 11, 2005

Ogden, Sherelyn.  Caring for American Indian Objects:  A Practical and Cultural Guide
           Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2004

Oral History Association Evaluation Guidelines

Patterson, Lotsee.  Native American Libraries and Resources

Society of American Archivists Code of Ethics

Sullivan, Lawrence E. and Alison Edwards.  Stewards of the Sacred Washington, DC: 
            American Association of Museums, 2005

Tuhiwai Smith, Linda.  Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples
           London:  Zed  Books Ltd, 1999

UNESCO.  Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage

United Nations.  Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People

Sherelyn Ogden. Caring for American Indian Objects:  A Practical and Cultural Guide (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2004): 15.

James D. Nason. “Native American Intellectual Property Rights:  Issues in the Control of Esoteric Knowledge” in Borrowed Power:  Essays on Cultural Appropriation
Bruce Ziff and Pratima V. Rao, ed. (New Brunswick, N.J.:  Rutgers University, 1997), p. 252.

The Provost at California State University at Chico formed a 12-member committee, composed of university personnel, members from the Maidu, Pomo, and Wintun tribes, and the Dorothy Moorehead Hill family for an item-by-item review of an ethnographic collection.  See Taran March.  “A Legacy in Trust:  The Dorothy Moorehead Hill Collection” Chico Statements Spring 2002.  Accessed online April 23, 2006 at:

For a full discussion of this recommendation, see Alyce Sadongei’s observations in Sherelyn Ogden, Caring for American Indian Objects:  A Practical and Cultural Guide (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2004), pp. 18-19.

Heather Moorcroft and Alana Garwood. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Thesaurus (Canberra: National Library of Australia, 1997).

The "Right of Possession” refers to possession obtained with the voluntary consent of an individual or group that had authority of alienation.  An individual, agency, or institution that claims right of possession should be able to provide evidence that the prior Native American owners and the appropriate authority voluntarily agreed to the transfer of ownership.

Other international agreements have also recognized the importance of archival materials.  The 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property Article 1(j) states that cultural property includes "archives, including sound, photographic, and cinematographic archives."  This Convention urges states to take appropriate action to legally protect and recover misappropriated materials.