Campus News

Mellon grant to support creation of Haudenosaunee Archive and Resource Collection


Published November 12, 2021

headshot of Theresa McCarthy.
“I was inspired by recent projects funded by the Mellon Foundation that were transforming universities by placing the initiatives of Indigenous communities and communities of color at their center. ”
Theresa McCarthy, associate professor and interim chair
Department of Indigenous Studies

The College of Arts and Sciences has received a $175,000 planning grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support development of a Haudenosaunee Archive and Resource Collection, bringing a long-imagined project a step closer to reality.

The announcement comes as the university continues work organizing its new Department of Indigenous Studies, also generously supported by the Mellon Foundation through its $3.174 million grant to the university in 2019.

The proposed archive and resource collection will establish and house a campus center where scholars, students, educators and community members can research and learn about Haudenosaunee people. UB will work closely with Indigenous advisers to help build a collection that will further enable it to meet the new department’s strategic priorities by inspiring scholarship, advancing Indigenous knowledge in ways that incorporate it into all fields, and addressing prevalent societal knowledge gaps regarding the culture, history and experiences of Indigenous people.

“I was inspired by recent projects funded by the Mellon Foundation that were transforming universities by placing the initiatives of Indigenous communities and communities of color at their center,” says the grant’s principal investigator, Theresa McCarthy (Six Nations, Onondaga), associate professor and interim chair of the new Department of Indigenous Studies and associate dean for inclusive excellence in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“We’re hoping to follow suit with this project to advance a transformative, outward, community-facing approach at UB that enables Indigenous knowledge to redefine the traditional epistemologies of our university.

“The aim is to address significant place-based concerns by supporting the development of infrastructure and capacity at UB, as well as at the many Haudenosaunee community-based repositories within close proximity to UB, in ways that ensure our important historical and cultural materials remain here instead of always ending up at collecting facilities located off of our territories,” McCarthy adds.

UB is located on the traditional territories of the Seneca Nation, one of the six member nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and is close to a majority of the federally recognized tribal nations in New York, as well as one of the largest First Nations communities in Canada. That proximity can help the department expand general knowledge of the Haudenosaunee and contribute to normalizing their inclusion in public narratives across the state, country and internationally, according to Despina Stratigakos, vice provost for inclusive excellence and a professor in the School of Architecture and Planning.

“This project builds on decades of efforts by Haudenosaunee scholars at UB,” says Stratigakos, the project’s co-principal investigator. “As an educational institution with a long legacy of Haudenosaunee scholarship, UB recognizes its responsibility to participate in dismantling colonialist and settler forms of knowledge production as we strive to become a more just and inclusive place of learning.”

The collection will be centered on Indigenous data sovereignty and ways of knowing, with an approach that ensures the financial resources to do this work are directed toward Haudenosaunee people, students, communities and tribal archives, and toward advancing more ethical and inclusive research and educational practices.

“We will honor and support Indigenous expertise and record-keeping practices under the direct authority of the Indigenous-run archival repositories on Haudenosaunee territory,” says McCarthy.

She has assembled a Haudenosaunee Advisory Committee to help guide the project and support the collection’s immediate planning. The council’s four members are all involved with development of the university’s Indigenous studies department, and are also Indigenous community members of UB’s Haudenosaunee-Native American Studies Research Group, which has been together since 2008:

  • Agnes Williams, an enrolled member of the Seneca Nation of Indians, Wolf Clan. She is a founding member of Women of All Red Nations, the IWN-Indigenous Women’s Network, and its local affiliate IWI-Indigenous Women’s Initiatives.
  • Terry C. Abrams, Tonawanda Seneca, Bear Clan. He is curator and collections manager at the Niagara County Historical Society and president of the Tonawanda Reservation Historical Society.
  • Dinah Porter, Akwesasne Mohawk, Wolf Clan. She is a longtime employee of Native American Community Services of Erie and Niagara Counties, who has worked as a cultural adviser, an Indigenous youth supporter and Native women’s health and wellness advocate
  • Mia McKie, Tuscarora, Turtle Clan. She is a UB faculty member working to complete her doctoral studies in history at the University of Toronto, specializing in Haudenosaunee governance.

The initiative and grant award acknowledge the achievements and aspirations of past and current Haudenosaunee scholars at UB, and give substance to the university’s ongoing discussions with Indigenous members of the Seneca, Tuscarora, Tonawanda and Six Nations communities in Western New York and Southern Ontario, according to McCarthy.

“A recurring thread in these conversations has been the desire to develop this archival and resource collection that recognizes Haudenosaunee sovereignty and intellectual authority, and to create an infrastructure that will support the care and culturally appropriate access to these materials,” she says.

And it is those conversations that have directly informed the direction of the current planning grant, according to Evviva Weinraub Lajoie, vice provost for university libraries and the project’s co-principal investigator.

"This is predicated on the idea that the Haudenosaunee are in the best position to tell us what their needs are and how we can work with them to enhance the accessibility of their history, language and culture,” says Weinraub Lajoie. “We hope that together we can build a pathway for enhanced access to the written, recorded and oral traditions of the Haudenosaunee people that will benefit researchers, educators and the members of the Confederacy.”

The imperative for the archive became clear and began taking shape more than 20 years ago while McCarthy was working with John Mohawk, a founder of UB’s Native American Studies program in 1972 and one of the foremost Haudenosaunee scholars of his generation. Mohawk was McCarthy’s academic supervisor on an archival research project she was developing on behalf of her community of Six Nations. A shuttered research facility encountered one year into the effort prevented the project’s completion.

The disappointing conclusion to their work, similar to what many Haudenosaunee people experienced throughout the 20th century, prompted Mohawk and McCarthy to think about how an archival space at UB would be beneficial to researchers, educators, students and community members, given the lack of access to collections within colonial collecting facilities.

“Dr. Mohawk hoped one day UB could develop a ‘clearing house’ for Haudenosaunee resources that would permit easy access to materials while recognizing Haudenosaunee peoples’ authority over them through community partnerships,” says McCarthy.

“This grant brings us closer toward realizing a project his forward-thinking leadership first imagined more than two decades ago. I’m thrilled by the opportunity we have before us.”