Native American Materials – Information for Researchers
Based on “Information for Researchers,” Special Collections and University Archives Department – University Libraries – University of Nevada, Reno
Collections pertaining to tribes or individual indigenous people may be culturally sensitive, so we may ask you to contact the appropriate tribal representative for permission to view, copy, or use the material.
Why are materials restricted?
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. — “Culturally Sensitive Materials” in the Protocols for Native American Materials
The Nevada Historical Society strives to recognize and meet the needs of its various stakeholders, and we recognize the value of research and scholarship. However, we also recognize that universal access to sensitive or private information can harm individuals and communities. This is why archives follow a variety of laws and guidelines pertaining to privacy and ethics, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials.
Something that is deemed to not be culturally sensitive may still be inappropriate for distribution due to guidelines or laws pertaining to individual privacy.
What might be restricted?
What is considered culturally sensitive may vary by each tribe or cultural group. However, many groups agree that images, recordings, or other information about ceremonies, human remains, grave objects, grave sites, and sacred sites may be culturally sensitive and consider that these materials should have restrictions on access or use.
The Nevada Historical Society has restricted access to materials concerning ceremonies, human remains, grave objects, grave sites, and sacred sites unless the researcher has permission from the appropriate cultural steward. We will remove the access restriction should we be informed by a tribe that the material does not need to be restricted, unless the materials in question still require restriction under state or federal law or when physical handling is restricted due to fragility.
The Protocols for Native American Archival Materials include a large list of material types that may be generally culturally sensitive. These include images, recordings, and information about medicine, music, religious practice (general), community histories, stories, village or colony maps, and ethnobotanical information.
The Nevada Historical Society has not restricted access to these materials but may request that you seek permission from the appropriate cultural steward to publish or otherwise distribute them. We will remove the use restriction should we be informed by a tribe that the material does not need to be restricted, unless the materials in question still require restriction under state or federal law.
How do I know if there are restrictions?
In brief, if the materials you wish to access are likely to contain sensitive information, you may assume that there could be a restriction of some kind, even if we have not yet updated the finding aid. Staff do not have cultural expertise or authority to assess cultural sensitivity. However, we are working to apply notices that collections might contain culturally sensitive content. Materials that we know contain sacred sites or ceremonial information are currently under restricted access.
All potentially sensitive materials should be discussed with the community and/or individuals or their descendants before deciding on their appropriate use or interpretation. Users of unpublished records have the same obligations to individuals/communities to follow standard ethical practices as individuals undertaking present-day field studies.
Who do I ask for permission?
If the material is culturally sensitive, you would ask the appropriate cultural authority for the specific tribe that the material is about or by. Staff can help you when we have a known contact with the tribe, but you may need to investigate this on your own, since each tribe has a different person or group of people who are cultural stewards.
Sometimes documents in archival materials describe culturally sensitive information from multiple tribes. In that case, you would need to contact each tribe.
I’m Native American myself, do I still need permission?
Anyone who does not have the appropriate authority (as determined by the culture of origin) to use materials from a particular tribe or community must seek permission from the appropriate cultural steward.