Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"I never intended to kill him": Exploring the Plateau Peoples' Web Portal

Plateau Peoples' Web Portal: "This portal is a gateway to the cultural materials of Plateau peoples that are held in Washington State University's Libraries, Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections (MASC), the Museum of Anthropology and by national donors. The collections represented here here have been chosen and curated by tribal consultants working in cooperation with University and Museum staff."

This is an exciting new site that already has a lot of content. The idea--to create a single portal for multiple institutions with materials about Plateau Indians--is a good one. And the execution is superb. The site is nicely designed and easily navigable.

The best thing about the project is the way that it seems to have been designed with the full input, cooperation, and most importantly control by the native peoples. According the the website: "The materials in the portal have been chosen and curated by the tribes. Tribal administrators, working with their tribal governments, have provided information and their own additional materials to the portal as a means of expanding and extending the archival record." Tribal administrators can add content, flag items that are culturally sensitive and should not be displayed, and add tags and other metadata to create "a rich and complex foundation for the exploration of Plateau peoples' histories."

Currently the Umatilla, Yakama, and Couer D'Alene tribes are part of the project, Each is represented by a tribal "path" that brings together all the information for that tribe under a set of nine categories (such as "Land," "Language," etc.). It is pretty clear from the architecture of the site that the plan is to bring in other native groups as well.

So let's go exploring in the site!

The title of my post comes from this letter from 1858, written by George Wright at a "Camp near Sacred Heart Mission." Wright writes: "I have determined to release the old chief Polatkin." He explains that "I never intended to kill him, or hurt him in any way. I only wanted to bring him to the mission in order that he might see how I treated the Indians here." Though Wright does admit that he hanged an unnamed Indian, one of Polatkin's friends or allies, along the way. "I hung the man taken with the chief because he had murdered two miners April last, and besides that man was at Ft Walla Walla with Father Ravelli and professed great friendship for us, and then came up here and joined the hostile Indians."

If you look at the item page for this dramatic letter you can see some of the sophisticated interactive features at this site. Registered users may flag an item as culturally sensitive, transcribe an item, or add comments either as text, audio, or video.

The Plateau Peoples' Web Portal is a model digital history project. It combines an appreciation of the sensitivity of its materials, cooperation with diverse groups, and some state-of-the-art Web 2.0 features. All of us working in digital history and archives should take note of the site.

1 comment:

Mary Schaff said...

It's great to finally have a counterpoint to the UW's collection, "American Indians of the Pacific Northwest." I'll be recommending this to the students we get.