Sequoyah National Research Center preserving Native documents
Dan Littlefield, Ph.D., the Sequoyah National Research Center’s director, stands amid preserved newspapers at the SNRC in Little Rock, Arkansas. COURTESY
The Sequoyah National Research Center contains a library catalogued with books from Indian removal and the Dawes Commission to the Spiro Mounds. It’s located in Little Rock Arkansas at the University of Arkansas. COURTESY
Acid-free boxes contain the works of the late Cherokee author Robert J. Conley at the Sequoyah National Research Center at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock. The SNRC provides a large collection of resources used to study Native American life and culture. COURTESY
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – In 1983, Native author Vine Deloria Jr. stressed the need of a repository for Native American newspapers and periodicals after failed attempts to do so by Native American organizations, historical societies and academic institutions.
That same year, Sequoyah National Research Center Director Dan Littlefield, Ph.D., and his colleague, James Parins, both tenured faculty members in the English Department at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, established the American Native Press Archives.
Today, the ANPA is part of the SNRC, which aims to provide the public the most comprehensive collection of Native American newspapers, periodicals and other publications. It maintains manuscripts and special collections, and acquires materials related to Native communities.
The SNRC has about 120 manuscript collections, including a large collection from Native journalists, the American Indian Library Association and the Garrard Ardeneum collection.
Littlefield said one of the largest and most-utilized, but not completely processed, collections that can be found at the SNRC is on Indian removal. It contains thousands of documents that were retrieved from the National Archives.
In addition, the SNRC contains microfilm collections of tribal documents from tribes including the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Choctaw and Quapaw nations.
The Cherokee collection includes Cherokee National Records on 128 rolls of microfilm; a collection of manuscripts by the late Cherokee author Robert J. Conley, career memorabilia, copies of editions of his work and personal library; the Frazier Family Trust Collection that includes Gideon Morgan family papers and Gus Ivey papers; the Cherokee Phoenix from New Echota, Georgia, on microfilm; the Cherokee Advocate to the early 1900s on microfilm; current editions of the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper; the Cherokee One Feather newspaper from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina; the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail Research Collection; and other Cherokee newsletters and periodicals.
In addition to housing collections, the SNRC maintains the website ualr.edu/ sequoyah as a research guide, engages in active partnerships with other research institutions and entities, provides a research setting for local and regional students as well as for student scholars and independent researchers nationally and abroad. It also provides summer internships.
“One of the driving questions for Jim Parins and me was what writers in future generations would use to write the histories of Indian affairs during the 20th century. Major repositories were not archiving contemporary information. They were just interested in the 19th and earlier centuries,” Littlefield said.
He said one complaint about histories at the time when needing a repository was there was little of the Indian’s perspective in them. He said there was no better source future historians could have than the works of tribal people. Those works gave better insight into tribal communities than tribal publications, publics relations information and other documents, he said. “We wanted to make sure some of those materials survived.”
The SNRC uses microfilming and acid-free boxes to preserve documents. “We follow accepted archival standards in taking preservation measures for newspapers and periodicals,” Littlefield said.
He said items are arranged chronologically in acid-free boxes and stored in low light areas. He added that atmosphere control is another important factor, that lower temperatures and humidity are better.
“How successful we are depends, in part, on the quality of the paper used in a publication. Some tribal newspapers use highly acidic newsprint, while few publish on less acidic paper. Most magazines are published on a higher quality paper and will, if taken care of, outlast the newsprint publications,” Littlefield said.
He said, for example, the SNRC has a copy of the Choctaw Telegraph published in Doaksville, Indian Territory, in 1849 and the pages are like turning sheets of cloth.
He said preserving in digital format can be difficult with ever-changing technology.
“The experts all tell us that digital records are unstable. Technology is constantly changing. There is not a server today that will be operational in 20 years from now, but the Navajo Times we have from the late 1950s will still be available for research,” he said.
He said there are several ways to access documents. If the collection is catalogued, a simple search on the SNRC website can be used by clicking on catalog search or archives search and entering a search term.
If a collection has not been catalogued, needed information can be digitized and emailed directly. If a search is too extensive to be handled by email, then an in-person visit to the SNRC may be required.
“That is the amazing thing about this collection. It exists because of the generosity of the tribes and institutions who bowed to us in the collection process,” he said.
The SNRC is at 500 University Plaza on the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. For information, call 501-569-8336 or email firstname.lastname@example.org