Posted: December 6, 2022 by Eori Tokunaga
In 2016, 567 tribal entities were federally recognized, and in 2020 estimates suggest that there are approximately 6 million people in the United States, or 2% of the country’s population, who identify as Native Americans and / or Alaskan Native Americans. Yet Native American Heritage Month was not officially recognized by the United States until 1990, less than 40 years ago. (Source: International Working Group for Indigenous Affairs;
United States Census Bureau)
Despite this, many people have celebrated and continue to celebrate Indigenous heritage every day of the year. As the American Indian College fonds he says, “It’s because our students and our communities know what it means to be without Native culture, heritage and language – because it was once US government policy to assimilate American Indians and eradicate these invaluable facets of heritage. As a result, generations of American Indians have been denied their birthright. Thus, it is important to recognize the cultural value and importance of preserving the Native American history, especially for those working in library and information science.
“Native Americans have a powerful presence in the United States both historically and culturally. Their resilience and creativity provide great learning opportunities for non-Native Americans, and it is important that librarians are the first to reach out and collaborate with this important community” (Source:
SJSU Information School).
The faces behind the search for immortality
As a born-and-raised resident of Colstrip, Montana, located near the northern Cheyenne Reservation, Adrienne Violett (pronouns: she/she) grew up with a strong connection to her community. “I graduated from Chief Dull Knife College in 2004 while having a work-study job with the Woodenlegs Library. Eventually this position became full-time and I worked there for about seven years until I’m leaving to raise a family. When the position of library director opened up, I applied and I was very, very happy to return to Cheyenne country.
“Having grown up near the North Cheyenne Reservation and attended school alongside Indigenous students, I feel a deep connection to the collections I oversee. As a non-member and non-Indigenous, my roles as librarian are much more defined. I feel like a steward of the collection and it is my responsibility to ensure that the collection is curated in the best possible way for the Cheyenne people. But at the same time, it means also understand that it’s not for me to decide what the best way will be This is where seeking advice from the Northern Cheyenne community and incorporating other people’s views and experiences with the archives, as well as the library collections.This is particularly important since the Woodenlegs Library is a tribal library, which means that it operates both in an academic and public capacity as many a other tribal libraries.
Alongside Woodenlegs Library Director Violett is a team of people, like Chloe Ortega (pronouns: she/she/her), who are equally passionate about preserving Northern language and culture. -cheyenne.
“Adrienne Violett approached me outside of Chief Dull Knife College and asked me about my interests and where I envisioned my career path. After a while, I had the opportunity to join the cultural department at Chief Dull Knife College and was thrilled that the previous conversation I had with Adrienne led me to be part of Seeking Immortality My name Cheyenne means “Woman of the Day” and I am Northern Cheyenne and Mexican-American.As a Cultural Awareness and Ethnographic Media Specialist for Chief Dull Knife College, I have the opportunity to experience my culture and be at the forefront of the next generation of young people. Cheyennes rising to leadership positions Being in this role allows me to interview and record elders as they share personal stories and traditional songs in our Cheyenne language.
Preserving Native American language and cultural artifacts
seek immortalitymore formally known as Northern Cheyenne Preservation Project (NCPP), developed through partnerships with Woodenlegs Library, San Jose State University’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, and the School of Information to expand the existing relationship between the Northern Cheyenne people and SJSU. Violett points out that “this partnership will undoubtedly reflect the Northern Cheyenne community. I hope that because it is done through the library, opportunities will arise for other tribal programs to use the scanning equipment once we have it here.
As Woodenlegs Library Director Violett says, “This project grew out of multiple conversations I had with Dr. Chow and other historic preservation meetings I had before the COVID-19 pandemic. Right before closing I was talking to the State Archivist who said, “Just start. Create it and go. So that really pushed me to just focus on preservation of the archives and to engage with the materials, especially since everything was closed. At this point, Seeking Immortality will really help us train staff, receive consultations, and most importantly, start creating virtual renderings of the artifacts three-dimensional in the archives. Since many of the tribesmen live off the reservation, virtual reality will provide them with a way to stay connected to their culture and help them share these parts of their heritage with their children.”
Ortega also adds that “virtual reality offers a wide range of access and provides a safe environment for the user. Being in a virtual space where you are encapsulated in learning removes the presence of an outside negative influence. In this space, you are safe and the singular purpose is to learn; to learn from someone and not from something. To be transported to these historical sites as they were and as they are now. Exploring the artifacts and all the history, language and stories associated with it. It is truly invigorating to discuss as it opens doors of continuation for the Northern Cheyenne community.
Final words for those interested in preserving Indigenous language and culture, or Indigenous libraries:
“Start simple and know that you are not alone. Often when we are faced with challenges that need attention but don’t know where to start, we can feel incredibly alone. Especially during the Covid, when there was no networking, no training, no conferences. It’s really easy to feel adrift in what we don’t know. But you are not alone. We are attracted to these tasks because they are important, and our uncertainty is only part of the process. So start simple: find professional associations, look at grant work that has already been done, watch tutorials online, and read magazine articles. Start simple because when you start learning about what’s going on in the field, the field is going to open up to you. – Adrienne Violett, Director of the Woodenlegs Library