Interview with the Authors: McCracken & Hogan; Decolonial Archival Futures

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

June 21, 2022

Krista McCracken and Skylee-Storm Hogan recently wrote Decolonial Archival Futures. The book will be available this fall from ALA. My interview with them is below.

1. Please briefly summarize your book Decolonial Archival Futures.

Decolonial Archival Futures looks at the colonial structures of information management and archives. Based on this understanding of colonial structures, the book examines ways in which decolonial interventions can occur in archives to make them more accessible to Indigenous communities, peoples, and individuals. Archival practices discussed include cultural protocols, original order, description, and digital access.

2. What sparked your interest in this topic?

KM: My interest in decolonial archival practice directly connects to my experience working at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC), an Indigenous community archives.  My time at the SRSC has really highlighted how much work the archives profession has to do to meet the needs of Indigenous communities. My more traditional education did not prepare me for working in an Indigenous community archives – and there needs to be a greater professional emphasis on building relationships with marginalized communities in relation to archival practice. 

SH: My interest in decolonial archival practice comes from my desire to make information and systems of organization accessible in ways logical to Indigenous researchers. As an Indigenous researcher and historian, I recognize how the ways we collect and organize information in colonial states directly impacts how research is carried out and how our collective knowledge of the past is formed. I also worked with the SRSC in my undergraduate degree and recognized how unique it was that I was first exposed to archival practice in a community-based archive. 

3. The description of the book includes the phrase ” it is especially critical that scholars and archivists who work with records by and about Indigenous people critically consider the implications of their work, this perspective is an essential one for all members of the profession.” Will you expand on that? How will this book help all information professionals?

KM: Though focused on Indigenous communities, Indigenous archival practices, and decolonizing archival practice this book has broad applications. Particularly, thinking deeply about the structures and values that archives uphold is work that is applicable across the information profession. 

SH: As a professional research historian, I often need to contextualise the records we use in our work. Because the settler-state created most of the documents we use, we need to unpack and examine the observations, language, and access privilege. When we ask information professionals to examine the implications of their work, we ask them to situate themselves within their access to these records and consider if their work will replicate harmful structures of colonialism. This book will be a starting point for information professionals and associated professionals to think about how they categorise and disseminate information and how colonialism is within the archives.

4. What works did you pull from to frame your thinking as you wrote this book?

KM: We looked at a lot of community archives and the literature surrounding community archives. Likewise, our work draws on decolonial practices. The work of Michelle Caswell, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Young, Zoe Todd and Crystal Fraser, and others influenced our thinking. 

SH: Michel-Rolph Trouillot was another significant influence for this work. Especially around framing how archival structures influence our understandings of the past.

5. The book includes “examples of successful approaches to unsettling Western archival paradigms from Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia.” Is there anything that surprised you as you gathered examples? 

KM: What surprised me was the ways in which protocols for working with Indigenous communities and Indigenous archival materials have evolved across all four countries. There are similarities in some of the protocols, but there are also distinctly regional aspects which impact language, archival practice, and implementation. 

SH: What surprised me was the differing responses to quote “decolonial” initiatives. These initiatives need to localise to a particular region’s Indigenous governance styles and sovereign desires to be effective. While UNDRIP is seen by many as the solution to sovereignty and consent, some Indigenous scholars have stressed that reliance on a colonial state’s acceptance of Indigenous sovereignty creates a dependency on those states to recognize Indigenous rights, which makes documents like UNDRIP a further extension of colonial power and imperialism.

6. How do you hope readers will use the book?

KM: I hope readers will use this book as a starting point in their work to actively build relationships with Indigenous peoples and decolonize archival practices. This book is not prescriptive, but I hope readers find practices and examples that are applicable to their own work.

SH: Like Krista, I hope that this book is a place where readers can begin to re-examine how settler-colonial states organise and understand information. I also would like to see this book used in coursework for information management, research methods, and public history. I hope the language is accessible enough to appeal to those engaged in research on the other side of the information management systems.

7. What conversations do you hope occur between readers of the book? What actions do you hope occur after information professionals read the book?

KM: I hope people have hard conversations related to privilege and archival practice. In order to decolonize archives and the archival profession we need to dismantle white supremacy in archives and take a hard look at what values archives uphold. 

SH: I hope that the information management and research professions can start talking about how our institutions and structures are not neutral and start seeing archival practice as an extension of settler-colonialism and white supremacy. I would ultimately like to see Indigenous peoples in leadership positions in the reformation of these structures.

8. Is there anything else you would like to share? 

SH: Indigenous peoples are not a monolith. We hope this book can aid settler archivists in starting meaningful change in their institutions without creating pan-Indigenous solutions that inadvertently replicate colonial power dynamics. I am so happy to work with Krista on this project, and I am hopeful we will have many more publications on this subject in the future. 

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent presenter on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Her expertise includes information literacy, educational technology, and library and information science education.  Please read Lauren’s other posts relevant to special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets.

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