OHC Mukurtu

Every few months, LYRASIS hosts a Community Collections Spotlight webinar, highlighting the great work coming out of our CollectionSpace implementers and partners. In October 2020, our guest was Jessi Weithman of the Ohio History Connection (OHC), who spoke about the work she and her team have done integrating CollectionSpace with the Mukurtu platform to provide a place for tribal representatives to initiate conversations and consultations for the purpose of repatriation.

The recording for the webinar is freely available via the LYRASIS Learning platform, and a summary of the presentation is included here.

The Ohio History Connection was formed in 1885 as the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society. Their collection includes 1.6 million artifacts spanning more than 14,000 years of human occupation in the state of Ohio. Within that collection are over 7200 American Indian ancestral remains, and over 110,000 associated funerary objects. These ancestral remains and associated funerary objects are all subject to NAGPRA, a federal law passed in 1990 that provides for the repatriation and disposition of Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony. 

In 2018, OHC partnered with four tribes, the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, Delaware Nations, the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi, and Seneca Nation, on a grant application to the National Parks Service’s National NAGPRA program. The grant had two core goals: to move data from a moribund Access database into OHC’s CollectionSpace instance, improving CollectionSpace’s support for NAGPRA documentation in the process, and to build a password-protected research portal to provide access for tribal representatives to NAGPRA-eligible collections. The underlying purpose of these two goals is to provide tribes with access to collection records in order facilitate consultation to determine cultural affiliation and ultimately repatriation.

At first, OHC planned to build a custom web portal, but after reviewing available options and consulting with their tribal partners, landed on the existing Mukurtu platform as a solution. Mukurtu is a free, open source product, based on the Drupal platform, and built in collaboration with indigenous communities to help manage and share digital cultural heritage. The goal of the portal is to be a gateway for repatriation, so that authorized representatives of a tribe can view an object in the portal and then let OHC know that they’d like to have a consultation and discussion for the purpose of repatriation. The Digital Technology Services team at LYRASIS worked with OHC on a Mukurtu exporter, so OHC staff can export the data right out of CollectionSpace and into Mukurtu. 

Because OHC did not have to build an entire web interface from scratch, they were able to do additional work on the descriptive metadata for their NAGPRA-eligible collections, including establishing an approved archaeological nomenclature and re-working a number of descriptions to improve cultural sensitivity.

Ohio History Connection was awarded another NAGPRA grant that will run from 2020-2022, and they look forward to continuing to work on this project, extending both Mukurtu and CollectionSpace to better support collections, consultations, and their tribal partners.

More information about the Ohio History Connection can be found on their website.

More information about the National NAGPRA grant program can be found on the National Park Service website (the federal agency that oversees NAGPRA).