Session 3.7 - Indigenous knowledge: a trigger for changes in archival practices


Julie Fenley - Gary Foley - Edwina Howell - Gavan McCarthy, Raymond Frogner, Jennifer O'Neal

Date Added:

24 October 2019

Chair: Noa Petueli Tapumanaia, Tuvalu National Archives and Library


a. Transforming Archival Practice: The Aboriginal History Archive, by Julie Fenley - Gary Foley - Edwina Howell - Gavan McCarthy

The Aboriginal History Archive at Victoria University aims to transform archival practice to allow for Indigenous self-determination. The archive contains materials collected by Gary Foley over a lifetime of Indigenous political struggle. The materials deal with a range of events, including the Aboriginal Tent Embassy of 1972, the development of Aboriginal and Islander legal and health services, early innovative Koori education programs, the first-all Koori theatre and television productions of the early 1970s, the Commonwealth Games demonstrations in Brisbane in 1982, the anti-Bicentennial protests of 1988, and the battle to re-open Northland Secondary College after its closure in 1992 by Jeff Kennett’s Liberal-National government. More recently, Gary Foley has been involved in a push to reshape the priorities of Museum Victoria as senior curator southeastern Australia from 2001 to 2005, and has studied and worked at Melbourne University, before being appointed to a lecturing and research role at Victoria University. His collection is now housed at Victoria University and mainly dates from the 1950s until today. There are common themes running across these events and throughout the collection which are the subject of this presentation: the need to challenge dominant systems of power and the push for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander creation, development and control of Indigenous social institutions.
The development of the Aboriginal History Archive at Victoria University has raised questions about how the archive team might reframe these structures and support the active participation of Indigenous archivists and users. How can the archive be informed by Gary Foley’s position, and is there a conflict between his approach and the theories and practices of the university-based academy and the archives or museums sector? How can the archive honour Gary Foley’s emphasis on challenging historical narratives?  What protocols can be adopted to privilege Indigenous perspectives? This paper focuses on the design and development stage of the archive. Drawing on Linda Tuhawai Smith’s views on Indigenous-centred research as well as the separate work of Martin Nakata and Kirsten Thorpe on transforming collecting institutions, the paper considers the challenges faced by the archive in reshaping priorities and Indigenising the archive.


Dr Julie Fenley

Julie Fenley is a research archivist at Victoria University’s Aboriginal History Archive and has a doctorate in Aboriginal history. With more than ten years working in the university sector and as a heritage and museum consultant, Julie is dedicated to social history and the recognition of minority rights.

Gary Foley

Gary Foley has developed initiatives that shaped the lives of Aboriginal people over the past five decades. His research on Aboriginal activism, land rights, Black Power and self-determination continues to contribute a radical perspective on Australian history. His research outputs include major creative works and he is recognised by many awards including the Australia Council Red Ochre Award for a lifetime of outstanding achievement in the Arts (2015).

Edwina Howell

Edwina Howell is a chief investigator of the Australia Research Council’s LIEF-funded project at the Aboriginal History Archive and a senior research fellow at Moondani Balluk Indigenous Academic Unit at Victoria University. Edwina is most interested in our ontological understandings of "progress", "development" and power in particular as they manifest in Australia. She co-edited ‘The Aboriginal Tent Embassy: Sovereignty, Black Power, Land Rights and the State’ with Gary Foley and Andrew Schaap in 2014.

Gavan McCarthy

Gavan McCarthy is the director of the University of Melbourne’s eScholarship Research Centre (eSRC) and a partner in the Australia Research Council’s LIEF-funded project at the Aboriginal History Archive. McCarthy is a leader in the field of cultural informatics with emphasis on the building of sustainable information resources and services to support research.


b. Red Jenkinson: The Indigenous Influence on Archival Theory and Practice, by Raymond Frogner

Colonial first contact histories generally depict the traumatic impact of European systems of trade, technology, and knowledge on Indigenous communities. Many have described how the first contact experience replaced or even erased Indigenous knowledge models; however, the colonial impact on knowledge paradigms was reciprocal but unacknowledged. Indigenous methods of knowledge — its creation, sharing, and preservation — found its way into European approaches to managing information, including archives.


Raymond Frogner has a Master's of History degree from the University of Victoria and a Master's of Archival Studies degree from the University of British Columbia. He has published on the relationship between Indigenous knowledge practices and archives for which he has twice won the Kaye Lamb award. He is currently Head of Archives for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation


c. From Time Immemorial: Centering Indigenous Knowledge in the Archival Paradigm, by Jennifer O'Neal

This talk will examine the traditional Indigenous knowledge systems that are at the center of Native American lifeways and culture. I argue that it is imperative that these traditional knowledge systems must be the foundation for the overall care and management of Indigenous archives in non-tribal repositories. Further, I show that applying a decolonizing indigenous research methodology into the archival paradigm will ensure that indigenous ways of knowing will be centered in the stewardship of collections. Examples of how this work can and should be implemented in repositories as well as in curriculum are presented to show specific examples, lessons learned, suggestions for implementation, and a call to action.


Jennifer R. O'Neal serves as the University Historian and Archivist at the University of Oregon, and affiliated faculty with the Native Studies, Robert D. Clark Honors College, and the History Department. Her research and teaching are dedicated to centering indigenous traditional knowledge, decolonizing methodologies, applying indigenous research methods, and implementing place-based education. She has led the development and implementation of best practices, frameworks, and protocols for Native American archives in non-tribal repositories in the United States. She serves as a contributing member of the Indigenous Archive Collective. She is a member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in Oregon (USA).