Inspired and empowered

Posted on December 18, 2019

By Yitazba Largo-Anderson, Library Mosaic Fellow

In October, I attended a week-long conference in Temecula, California called the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums. ATALM is an international non-profit based conference that focuses on making libraries, archives, and museums inclusive of Indigenous culture, language, and scholarship by providing programs, services, and networking opportunities among both tribal and non-tribal cultural institutions.

yitazba and Sacheen
I had the opportunity to meet Sacheen Littlefeather, an Apache activtst.

One of my favorite sessions I attended was called, “Cultural Survival at its Best: Grassroot Efforts to Preserve the Jicarilla Apache Language.” Ten tribal elders created a language learning resource for their tribe. They re-translated a century old, scholarly text into a culturally and linguistically correct English version. From the 1890’s-1930’s, three anthropologists conducted fieldwork recording the Jicarilla Apache language. They recorded stories from Jicarilla Apache members and categorized them as “folklore” and “myths.” From these recordings, the Jicarilla Apache elders translated the text first into current day Apache and then back into English. Their project made me think of how books and resources within the library, albeit ones that sought to assimilate and erase Native American culture and identity, can be tools in creating methods of language and cultural preservation for Native people.

It was an honor to attend ATALM, and I am so grateful W&M Libraries gave me the opportunity to see myself within libraries other than on bookshelves or in an archive. I met numerous Native American women librarians, one of whom earned five degrees and is passionate about decolonizing libraries, while another attended ATALM to gain leadership experience to further advance her career in museums. I also met Sacheen Littlefeather, an Apache actress and activist for Native American rights, and Joy Harjo, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation who recently won the title of this year’s United States Poet Laureate. I was inspired by their resiliency to racist narratives and their ability to turn harmful stereotypes on their heads in order to achieve cultural sovereignty for Native people.

yitazba standing by book display
Next to the display I curated

I came back to W&M feeling empowered. Meeting all these powerful Native women at ATALM motivated me to create the “Decolonizing the Narrative” book display. Most of the authors I chose for the display are Native American women. Their words and actions fight back against harmful narratives about Native people, and it is something I wanted to celebrate and bring awareness to in W&M’s community and archives.