Digital footprints of the past: An online archive of Native history

Santa Fe New Mexican, August 10, 2018

What if you could view a vast archive of your family’s history and your cultural records from your living room? What if you could talk back to that archive and correct its spellings, annotate its histories? What if you could share your research, write your own histories, and upload these documents and photos to a shared living narrative?

All these futuristic promises are being delivered with the ongoing rollout of the Indigenous Digital Archive, a project of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. Known as IDA, the online archive allows viewers to easily access what amounts to roughly 270,000 pages (150 linear feet) of records on the Santa Fe Indian School and other Native boarding schools in New Mexico, as well as land- and water-rights use claims. The records come from the U.S. National Archives and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center New Mexico’s Tribal Libraries program. But the focus is squarely on papers from the boarding school era, which remains a black hole of collective memory, an imbalance that the IDA hopes to correct.

“These records have been available, but it was difficult to get them. You had to be a researcher type and travel to these locations in Denver, in Albuquerque or Washington, D.C., to view them,” said Veronica Tiller, an IDA board member who is a University of New Mexico professor and a member of the Jicarilla Apache tribe. “You had to have access to a microfilm reader and know how to search for material. It was really exhausting and time-consuming.”

A historian by training, Tiller knows her way around the special ways in which an archive is organized. She has traveled thousands of miles to view them, in order to write books such as The Jicarilla Apache of Dulce and The Jicarilla Apache: A Portrait. But experiences like hers may become a thing of the past, thanks to the site now available at

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