University partners to preserve Native American oral history


A university is collaborating with a museum and library to preserve more than three generations of Native American urban history in West Michigan.

Grand Valley State University said this month that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Grand Rapids Public Library and the Grand Rapids Public Museum to collaborate on the university’s Gi-gikinomaage-min Project.


With the signed memorandum, Grand Rapids Public Library and Grand Rapids Public Museum are partnering with GVSU to reformat existing Native American Oral History collection materials later this year. Current materials and content at the museum are in VHS and reel-to-reel tapes, which makes the content nearly obsolete, according to Alex Forist, curator at the museum.

The collaboration also includes collecting more than 50 new oral histories from Native American elders in the West Michigan region, which will then be available to the public.

Tim Gleisner, head of Special Collections at GRPL, said having the oral histories available through one portal is important to provide access to the community as well as researchers.

The project

The affiliation is part of GVSU's Kutsche Office of Local History’s Gi-gikinomaage-min Project, which means “We are all teachers,” and was created to develop the first archive collection of urban Native Americans’ experience in West Michigan.

Additional partners working on the project include GVSU’s University Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives, Native American Advisory Board and Office of Multicultural Affairs.

Nancy Richard, university archivist on the Libraries Special Collections team, said collaboration on digital preservation initiatives is often necessary, since it can be expensive.

“This collaboration with local Native American communities, the Kutsche Center and historical curators to preserve and share generations of stories of our first people in their own voices emphasizes just how essential the technology is to the understanding of our culture,” Richard said.

Lee VanOrsdel, dean of university libraries, said faculty and staff members are “proud to have a role in preserving the voices of Native Americans in West Michigan.”

The project officially launched in November 2014 with a community history harvest at the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi Northern Health Center in downtown Grand Rapids, and the historically focused humanities project is funded in part by a Heritage grant from the Michigan Humanities Council. 

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