Reviewed By: Myla Perrelli, Jennifer Robertson, Josephine Trott, & Jessica Walker
Link to article: http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2019/transformative-praxis/
This article looks at the ways in which libraries and archives in Australia can decolonize and indiginize simultaneously in order to provide cultural safety to their communities. The author Kirsten Thorpe believes that much importance lies in the praxis, or combination of reflection and action within the context of theory and practice, as it relates to the work that needs to be done with regards to Indigenous peoples. A stronger and more direct dialogue is needed on the subject of Indigenous people and decolonization within the library community in addition to more direct action. The importance of cultural interface, or the different awareness and knowledge that people have on a subject, is discussed. The article thoroughly delves into important areas where work needs to be done in institutions and research with the goal to provide solutions. These areas include utilizing Indigenous research methodologies, working locally with Indigenous peoples, and resourcing the decolonization and indigenization with time and money. Additionally, the author is an Indigenous archivist from Australia who has 20+ years of experience working in the field. Her family on her mother’s side are Worimi people from a coastal region of Australia.
Core Research Questions
For this article, the core questions are explicitly written in the text. They are:
“ How can libraries and archives engage with indigenous peoples and communities to build mutual partnerships within current frameworks?” (Thorpe, 2019, p.1, para. 3)
Can libraries and archives build spaces with respect to indigenous people, or will they continue to ignore their role of “perpetuating colonial system and structures”? (Thorpe, 2019, p.1, para. 3)
Historically, the organization of information in Australian libraries and archives have continually ignored input or voice from the Indigenous peoples and communities. The author stresses throughout the article that ignoring the Indigenous people’s perspectives, will continue to harm the community and possibly traumatize the multiple generations with colonial centric histories. Practices cannot merely change overnight without community partnerships and engagement. The author questions how we can create mutual partnerships, given the current organization in current libraries and archives.
In the past, there has been an effort in creating library and archive spaces for Indigenous communities; however, “many projects and services were being designed without Indigenous community input or perspective” (Thorpe, 2019, p.1 para. 9). Problematically, Indigenous peoples were asked to approve of new projects only after they have been designed and created. These finished projects had little to no input or collaboration from the communities in which they were for. If Australian libraries and archives want to build and design spaces with respect to the Indigenous communities that exist in Australia, the author argues that there needs to be an effort to collaborate with Indigenous people and decolonize the classification, description, and organization of the existing system.
Thorpe uses a qualitative examination of personal experiences, or autoethnography, according to the guidelines laid out by Houston (2007) to consider the core questions. The data for this self-study is acquired through Indigenous Standpoint Theory (IST) and evaluated using Cultural Interface as detailed by Nakata (2007). Standpoint theory is an individual’s ability to understand how their perspectives have been shaped by the dominant, usually conflicting, culture. IST specifically looks at how the dominant culture has erased, misrepresented, and suppressed ancestral cultures and languages to perpetuate assimilation. This provides context for identifying the instances of suppression that arise in the everyday life of Indigenous people. These instances are also the root of much distrust with the institutions in question. Cultural interface uses the intersection of Indigenous people’s ancestral identity and colonizer culture to witness systematic conflicts. Using the cultural interface, instances identified with IST can be evaluated based on how much personal harm and trauma is inflicted. Thorpe (2019) considers both the “experiential and intellectual” impact of these instances (Thorpe, p.1, para. 5). This qualitative information is used to inform ways they can be used in praxis to decolonize libraries and archives. In doing so, the oppressive power systems can be eliminated to create supportive spaces and systems for Indigenous people.
The main finding of the study is that in order to make archives and libraries more supportive of indigenous populations, various goals must be achieved. The first of which is that “indigenous research methodologies” must be utilized (Thorpe, 2019, p.1, para 20). For example, the Kaupapa Maori Theory provides great framework for challenging the “dominant systems of power”, or in other words, the library and archival structures that oppress indigenous populations (Thorpe, 2019, p.1, para. 6). The next component is to use the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to guide library and archive practices. Another idea is to consult leaders in the indigenous community for their advice, work with them to prioritize goals and adopt protocols that are applicable to these groups. Additionally, collaborative members could create plans that will put these protocols into action. Librarians and archivists need to respect indigenous groups’ values and build a relationship of mutual benefit. It is also important to increase representation of indigenous peoples in leadership positions such as on library boards. Leaders need to understand that the process of creating a supportive environment requires changes that must be made to work, with time and resource division. Lastly, advocate for studies of indigenous populations as a core component of curriculum in library and archive courses.
What can American libraries learn from this?
American Libraries can learn from the international perspectives that the populations the library is looking to serve should be leaders for developing services. Key groups in the community must be consulted and power structures of the library must be examined. Libraries need to be willing to look at the underlying structural components of their organizations that may marginalize groups in their community and be willing to change them.
White librarians in particular have a lot of work to do. Indigenous peoples and other marginalized communities should not have to bring this work forth alone. It needs to be an effort that takes into account the trauma and emotional/cultural safety of the community that the librarian works and resides within.
Librarians and archivists also need to understand that there are different cultural practices and beliefs between multiple Indigenous communities. If they want to design spaces for them, then collaboration needs to happen before, during, and after the process. Librarians must recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all in creating these information spaces, so the process will need to be revisited several times, with each distinctive Indigenous group.
Essentially, Americans libraries were designed in a colonized system which has been shown to be oppositional and harmful to Native Peoples. This article draws attention to the ways in which American libraries may be similarly hostile to Indigenous Americans. To consider the actionable ways to decolonize the system, as laid out in the article, provides a starting point for local research and understanding of the methods for measuring and collecting community input.
Houston, J. (2007). Indigenous autoethnography: Formulating our knowledge, our way. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 36(S1), 45-50.
Nakata, M. (2007). Disciplining the savages: Savaging the disciplines. Canberra, A.C.T.: Aboriginal Studies Press.
Thorpe, K (2019). Transformative praxis: Building spaces for Indigenous self-determination in libraries and archives. Retrieved from http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2019/transformative-praxis/