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National Archives Native American Photo Library Online
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Standing Rock Agency Baseball team
Baseball Team, Standing Rock Agency, ca. 1935
National Archives

Approximately 18,000 Bureau of Indian Affairs photographs in the custody of the National Archives and Records Administration are now available in an online, searchable photo library. Nearly 13,000 of the photographs were taken on South Dakota reservations. The pictures reveal scenes of everyday life, groups of people and individuals, sports teams, and many other subjects. Most of the pictures are from the mid-20th century, roughly 1930 - 1949, but some pictures in the collection are undated. Some are undated and lacking information about the people shown. For that reason, the National Archives is seeking input from the general public via its Citizen Archivist program. Online users are encourage to sign up for the program and, once enrolled, help with the process of identifying photo locations and subjects.

Site users can browse and filter images by tribal nation, state, and topic.

Bureau of Indian Affairs Photographs Finding Aid home page: https://www.archives.gov/research/native-americans/bia/photos/

Learn more about the BIA photos and finding aid.

Below: Listen to SDPB Radio's Lori Walsh interview Jason Clingerman, the National Archives Director of the Digital Engagement Division in the Office of Innovation, located in College Park, MD. Jason and his team created the finding aid; and Cody White, the National Archives subject matter expert on Native American Records and an archivist at the National Archives at Denver. Cody worked with Jason's team during the development and testing phase of this new resource.

IN THE MOMENT

Interview: The BIA Photographs Finding Aid

00:0000:00

Interview Transcript:

Lori Walsh:

Welcome back to In the Moment. I'm Lori Walsh.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has been collecting photos from U.S. reservations for decades, but the pictures haven't been easy for members of the public to find until very recently. There is now an online searchable database of the pictures, thanks to the National Archives and Records Administration. The Bureau of Indian Affairs Photographs Finding Aid lets anyone with an internet connected computer browse the photos, including thousands of pictures of South Dakota reservations and residents. The tool also provides a way for the general public to help identify the people in subject matter in the pictures. Joining me now to talk more about this we have Jason Clingerman, the National Archives Director of the Digital Engagement Division in the Office of Innovation located in College Park, Maryland. Jason and his team created the Finding Aid.

Welcome Jason. Thanks for being here.

Jason Clingerman:

Yeah, thank you for having me. I'm glad to be here today.

Lori Walsh:

Also with us today, Cody White, the National Archive subject matter expert on Native American records and an archivist at the National Archives in Denver. Cody worked with Jason's team during the development and testing phase of this new resource.

Cody, thanks for being here as well.

Cody White:

Thank you for having us, Lori.

Lori Walsh:

Jason, let's start with you. Help people understand the scope of this project and how it continues to grow.

Jason Clingerman:

Yeah, sure. The National Archives at the moment has over 18,000 digitized historical photographs from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. These photographs were accessible in the National Archives Catalog, which is the central repository for all of NARA's digitized holdings, and also descriptions of analog holdings, but to find these photos would be quite a journey from searching and filtering. And so what we've done is we've pulled these 18,000 plus photographs out of the National Archives Catalog and put them into this that we've developed, which really allows people to see the photos all at a glance and drill down into them further using various access points like tribal nation state and also topic.

Lori Walsh:

Cody, there is an acknowledgement on the website of this page that photographs included in the project may evoke memories or feelings from a history of oppression. Tell us a little bit about the original captions on the pictures and some of the images and what they reveal. Why is that warning necessary?

Cody White:

Well, by and large, that warning came out of a lot of consultation we had with tribal members as we moved forward with this project, and it's because of the nature of some of the activities of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, most notably the schools. These photographs do document the schools, the infamous and more well-known off-reservation boarding schools, but also the on reservation boarding schools, the day schools, some shots of missionary schools. And given the schools were part of sort of the assimilation plan in the late 19th, early 20th century for Native Americans, it often does invoke strong negative feelings. Additionally, we put the part about captions. A lot of our photographs here don't have captions, but often they do and they use the terms at the time, which now today we understand are quite derogatory.

Lori Walsh:

Yeah. What is the role of people in helping to identify and contribute information from background information to identification information for the photos? Jason, tell us a little bit about how every day people can contribute to the growing database.

Jason Clingerman:

For several years now, the National Archives has had a pretty robust, what we call citizen archivist program, where members of the public can through our web interface the National Archives Catalog, contribute either tags or transcriptions or even discuss records in a comment section. What we've done is we've leveraged that community to help us tag the topics that we use for these photographs. First we established what the topics were going to be by getting input from members of tribal nations and other stakeholders. And then what we did was we put them in what we call a citizen archivist mission, where members of the public can go online and see the photographs in our catalog and tag them with one of the topics that we've asked them to touch on and then they add that, and then that automatically gets pulled into this website that we've developed specifically for the photographs.

Lori Walsh:

Yeah. Cody, I went through some of this morning ... fascinating images and the clarity of those images. Who would have been taking these picture and why? Tell me a little bit about why these photographs were collected and how extensive the collection really is.

Cody White:

Well, the reservation superintendents, the superintendents of the Bureau of Indian Affairs agencies nationwide took many, many photos, sort of how we snap a bunch on our phones and then we keep the best. In the case of the superintendents of South Dakota, they seemed to save even the extra shots. So now we have this massive collection. It's nearly 13,000 from South Dakota alone. Generally there was this business need. The photos were taken to include in reports, inspections, among other uses. So whether it was a survey of all the residents on the res of a new dam being constructed or animal control. For example, for Standing Rock, there's a shot that sticks in my mind of this huge pile of rattlesnakes that they collected. With this new website now you can find that via the animals topic or State of South Dakota or by Standing Rock Sioux Nation.

Lori Walsh:

Yeah. Jason, what is the potential for this beyond curiosity? From a research standpoint, as historians across the nation, tribal historians, people wanting to learn more about a specific project, have access more easily to these records, what kind of scholarship and what kind of information or projects might come from this? What do you think?

Jason Clingerman:

These photographs really tell an amazing visual history of life on Native American reservations and Native American culture. And so anybody either doing research in those topics, whether for a specific tribal nations or for the relationship with the U.S. Government and Native Americans in general, these photographs are a visual documentary of this. I think that there's really unlimited potential, especially in the future as NARA hopefully digitizes more of these photographs and they get made accessible through this site, that we made them easy to find and organize them in a way that anybody researching any topic, whether for a video documentary, writing a book, scholarly articles, news articles can find the necessary photographs to convey the history that they're trying to convey.

Lori Walsh:

Yeah. Well, we are going to put information up on our website to link to all of this' sdpb.org. Jason Clingerman and Cody White, thank you so much for being here with a brief introduction.

Jason Clingerman:

Yeah, thank you so much.

Cody White:

Thank you again for having us, Lori. You stay safe out there.