Crosby Kemper shaking hands on stage.
IMLS Director Crosby Kemper participates in a session during the ATALM 2022 Conference in CA. (photo courtesy of Sven Haakanson, Alutiiq).

By Sarah Glass (Wyandot Nation of Kansas), OMS Sr. Program Officer and Jen Himmelreich (Diné), OLS Sr. Program Officer

During the last week of October 2022, over 1,300 people from 46 states and eight countries gathered in Temecula, California, on the lands of the Pechanga Band of Indians, to participate in the 15th annual International Conference of Indigenous Archives, Libraries, and Museums. The largest gathering of its kind, the conference is organized and run by the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums (ATALM), a Native-led non-profit organization that provides national leadership on issues impacting Indigenous cultural organizations. The three-day event, with major funding provided by IMLS, consisted of hands-on workshops, cultural field trips, prominent keynote speakers, diverse exhibitors, artisans, and vendors, and over 150 educational sessions, all tied together by the overarching theme of “Intertwined Cultures: Stronger Together.”

Indigenous leaders, students, and culture keepers working in or with libraries, archives, museums, schools, and tribal government were in attendance, in addition to representatives from multiple federal agencies, private foundations, and educational institutions. IMLS staff participated in many elements of the conference, while IMLS grantees past and present used this gathering as an opportunity to connect with and learn from each other for the first time since 2019.

Sharing the Work of IMLS

Highlights included an Honoring Reception recognizing the “Top Ten Native Museums and Cultural Centers” serving as models for the Culture Builds Communities Project, a 2019 IMLS National Leadership Grant for Museums award. IMLS Director Crosby Kemper presented awards to the ten institutions who served as case studies to help additional Native communities plan and develop their own cultural facilities. Director Kemper also provided remarks, alongside Shelly Lowe, Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Maria Rosario Jackson, Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, during the conference’s Opening Ceremony in a keynote session entitled, “Sustaining and Advancing Indigenous Cultures: The Role of Federal Agencies.” All three federal leaders reflected on their respective agencies’ ongoing commitments to uphold their government-to-government relationships with Tribal Nations, and to continue leveraging Federal resources in support of Indigenous cultural preservation and representation.

Strengthening the Indigenous Grant Administrators Community

Crosby Kemper stands with others for photo.
IMLS Director Crosby Kemper with American Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, NEA Chairwoman Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, and NEH Chairwoman Shelly Lowe (Navajo) at the ATALM 2022 Conference in CA. (photo courtesy of Sven Haakanson, Alutiiq).

Another highlight was the convening of current IMLS grantees from the Native American Library Services: Enhancement Grants and the Native American/Native Hawaiian Museum Services Grants programs. Each program requires a small amount of award recipients’ budgets to include funding for travel to and attendance at an IMLS-designated meeting. Not only was this the first joint grantee convening for the two program offices, but the largest as well, with over 85 grantees from 19 states participating in the all-day meeting. The agenda enabled grantees to meet IMLS program staff and each other. A fun and powerful round of introductions allowed everyone to applaud one another’s ‘superpowers’ and witness two-thirds of the grantees introduce themselves in their languages – moving evidence of the importance of language and cultural preservation. As grantees shared their roles, many mentioned they are managing the responsibilities of two or three positions within their organizations, and that for most, this was their first time attending the ATALM conference. As the day progressed, grantees presented their projects, gained a greater understanding of how IMLS grant programs and processes work and, in small groups, reflected on shared challenges and experiences of the last few years.

“It was a pleasure to be there. I enjoyed meeting with the other grantees. Hearing about their successes and knowing that they have similar challenges gives me the inspiration to push forward with my work.”
  - IMLS Grantee Convening Attendee

Bringing Ancestors Home from Abroad

The ATALM conference also served as the starting location for an inter-agency pilot program focused on assisting Native Americans, Alaskan Natives, and Native Hawaiians with the return of their ancestors and cultural items held in foreign institutions. This initiative is an effort by the White House Council on Native American Affairs International Repatriation Subcommittee, led by the U.S. Department of State, with partners including the U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Department of Justice, Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, and IMLS, to address the challenges Native nations face with international repatriation. The program brought four representatives from prominent museums in Germany, Finland, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand to the U.S. to engage in meaningful conversations with Tribes in multiple geographic locations across the country over the course of two weeks. The goal of this in-person exchange was to promote the development of positive relationships between the foreign museum leaders and Tribes, explore potential best practices or ‘roadmaps’ for repatriation, and to serve as a starting point for facilitating future international returns.

Continuing the Connections

Although the ATALM conference lasts only a few days, the feedback shared and lessons learned will continue to inform IMLS grant-making initiatives and administration year-round. The opportunity for face-to-face interactions between IMLS staff and grantees is invaluable, but more importantly, the connections made between the Indigenous cultural professionals themselves embody the central message: we are all ‘stronger together’.

Native American Library Services
Native American/Native Hawaiian Museum Services
Native Hawaiian Library Services
National Leadership Grants for Libraries