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Digital return is described in this paper as a process of creating and maintaining relationships between heritage and cultural institutions, people, and digital data. Our project reflects a rapidly shifting technological context in which the creation of access for originating communities to their heritage in distant museum collections and the collaborative multimedia production are increasingly parallel projects. In 2009, a delegation of Inuvialuit Elders, youth, seamstresses, and cultural experts from the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the north traveled with a group of anthropologists, archaeologists, educators, and media producers from the south to research and document the Smithsonian’s MacFarlane Collection. In the years following this initial visit, the project team collaboratively developed a virtual exhibit and community-based digital archive called “Inuvialuit Pitqusiit Inuuniarutait: Inuvialuit Living History.” This project features the digital MacFarlane Collection, documents the delegation’s visit to the Smithsonian, and connects contemporary Inuvialuit interpretations of the collection to ongoing cultural practices in Inuvialuit communities. Through the lens of this virtual exhibit, we explore central issues of access to Aboriginal cultural heritage, ownership of digital heritage, and new forms of collaboration between holding institutions and Aboriginal communities that digital practices are facilitating. We demonstrate how new digital networks connecting heritage institutions and their data are creating opportunities for Aboriginal recontextualization of heritage, while presenting significant challenges for the long-term preservation of digital materials.
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