Articulating Culturally Sensitive Knowledge Online: A Cherokee Case Study

Robert Leopold


This article examines the online management of culturally sensitive knowledge through a discussion of a collaboration between the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and the Smithsonian Institution. It discusses the roles of the two institutions in a digital repatriation project involving an extensive body of 19th and 20th century manuscripts as well as the assumptions that informed their respective decisions regarding the online presentation of traditional cultural expressions. The case study explores some challenges involved in providing online access to culturally sensitive materials: first, by probing disparate senses of the term community, and then through a close examination of a particular class of heritage materials about which many Cherokee feel deeply ambivalent and for which notions of collective ownership are especially problematic. The Cherokee knowledge repatriation project offers a novel model for the circulation of digital heritage materials that may have wider applicability. The success of the project suggests that collaboration between tribal and non-tribal institutions may lead to more creative solutions for managing traditional cultural expressions than either alone can provide.


Access Restrictions; Digital Repatriation; Culturally Sensitive Materials; Ethnographic Archiving; Digital Repatriation; Digitization; Public Access Policies; Tribal Consultation

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