Library aids in preserving Blackfoot past

Through its involvement with the Blackfoot Digital Library, and a recent effort that digitized back issues of the Kainai News, the University Library is helping to ensure that valuable Blackfoot heritage is being preserved for generations to come.

The library first got involved with the Blackfoot Digital Library project in 2006, with a digitization venture originally started by Ryan and Adrienne Heavy Head. It was designed to support community efforts in locating and repatriating Blackfoot materials, and later linked to the U of L's Native American Studies program's CURA project through Red Crow College. The goal of the partnership with our library was to gain access to ongoing funding through the Lois Hole Campus Alberta Digital Library (LHCADL) initiative.

The University saw great opportunities to partner with Red Crow College to ensure the longevity of the resources being catalogued by the Heavy Heads, and in 2008 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the two institutions. Through this agreement, the Blackfoot people retain ownership of the assets collected, and the University is responsible for the website.

The project continues to grow today as Adrienne Heavy Head gathers and digitizes artifacts, documents, audiovisual and archival materials. She also remains commited to the original initiative by identifying collections of Blackfoot items in museums around the world. Once found, she tries to get the items returned, or at least have digital photos or scans of the materials sent so that they can be added to the digital collection.

Many large collections of Blackfoot materials are housed in museums in the UK, and Adrienne is working on developing relationships with scholars and archivists in Scotland and England to learn more about their holdings. For example, the British Museum has a huge collection of items that very few Blackfoot people have seen, and it is only through cultivating these relationships that we are able to share information.

Heavy Head has been invited to present at conferences throughout the UK and is currently planning a trip to the University of Oxford to view the collection at the Pitt Rivers Museum. She also intends to visit both Cambridge and Exeter.

"These museums have some of the oldest collections of Blackfoot materials in the world," she says. "It is through our connection to the Blackfoot Digital Library that many of these doors have been opened to us, as we are now invited to conferences and they are more willing to talk to us."

Heavy Head has also made connections with both the National Trust for Scotland and the Glasgow Museum.

In addition to artifacts, oral history is also being preserved through the project. Existing interviews from older formats are being digitized, and the Kainai Studies Department at Red Crow College collects new videos of elders sharing their knowledge and stories. These invaluable experiences could otherwise be lost with their passing.

The Blackfoot Digital Library is available at

This story first appeared in the Legend. For a full look at the January issue of the Legend in a flipbook format, follow this link.