UC Riverside has been awarded a $376,191 grant to fund the project, “The Sherman Indian Museum Digital Collection: Increasing Access to American Indian Off-Reservation Boarding School Archives.” The grant, ”Digitizing Special Collections and Archives,” was awarded on Wednesday, Jan. 4 by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), and funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
In 1903, the Sherman Institute was established as an off-reservation American Indian boarding school in Riverside, CA. The Sherman Institute was founded by the United States government as an effort to assimilate Native American youth into mainstream society. In 1971, the Sherman Institute became what is now Sherman Indian High School.
Today, the Sherman Indian Museum is located alongside the campus of Sherman Indian High School. Headed by Lorene Sisquoc, director of the Sherman Indian Museum, the museum serves the local community, providing public access to their collection of Native American cultural artifacts, a vast library of published works pertaining to the Native American experience and a historical archive of records and documents directly relating to the Sherman Institute and school.
“The Sherman has been in this area for over a century. They have this great collection that is only semi-accessible. People don’t know the story,” explained Eric Milenkiewicz, manuscripts curator for the Special Collections & University Archives at UCR and one of the principal investigators for the grant.
The project stands as a collaboration between UCR and the Sherman Indian Museum. The goal of the project is to digitize the museum’s collection, particularly the historical collection, and to add it as an addition to Calisphere, a free access online digital library of historical artifacts and documents maintained by the University of California.
Since its opening in 1970, the museum has attracted scholars from UCR and other local institutions to aid them in their research. However, access hours to the museum remain limited and it is not feasible for scholars outside of the local area to utilize the materials. Fortunately, one of the aims of the digitalization project is to provide scholars unlimited access as Milenkiewicz confirms, “Of course, UCR scholars and scholars across the world will benefit as well, and will be able to utilize the material for their research.”
Additionally, the digitized collection stands as a platform that has potential to educate the worldwide public of the history of Native Americans. Riann Kaibetoney, a third-year global studies major at UCR and a Sherman Indian High School graduate, recounted her earlier experiences at UCR and expressed her frustrations regarding what she perceives as general ignorance among her peers’ in regard to the history of Native Americans. “Coming to UCR, I’ve met some people who were like, ‘You’re what? Native American? That’s so exotic!’ How is that exotic? I was here before you!” she laughed, adding, “People should know more about the history, since its not really taught in school.”
There are many motivations behind this project, but as Milenkiewicz makes clear, the main goal is to give back to the tribal communities by providing them a resource to study their own past. “This is really a resource that is by them, it’s for them. The national tribal community is going to be able to essentially look through their own history. That’s really the primary goal of this project, to give back to that community.”
Although the funds will not be officially distributed until June, UCR will begin processing the Sherman Indian Museum collection in preparation for digitization. Once digitized, the collection will be added to Calisphere and will be publicly available through the Calisphere website.