Art & Activism

"Virtual Repatriation"-- Sharing artifacts digitally

This is a paper that will be presented at an April (2012) Conference in San Diego

Virtual Repatriation and the Application Programming Interface: From the Smithsonian Institution’s MacFarlane Collection to “Inuvialuit Living History”

Kate Hennessy, Simon Fraser University, School of Interactive Arts and Technology, Canada; Ryan Wallace and Nicholas Jakobsen, Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, Canada; Charles Arnold, University of Calgary, Canada


Digital technologies are providing heritage institutions and stakeholder publics with new possibilities for sharing curatorial and ethnographic authority. More than creating access to museum collections, institutional practices of making digital records public have opened spaces for “virtual repatriation” and the production of alternative representations of tangible and intangible cultural heritage. In 2009, a delegation of Inuvialuit elders, youth, cultural workers, and media producers traveled with anthropologists to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History to view and document the MacFarlane Collection, arguably the most significant collection of Inuvialuit material culture. In the months after the visit, the group worked with Smithsonian curators and developers of the Reciprocal Research Network (RRN) to make the MacFarlane Collection’s digital records available for the Inuvialuit production of a virtual exhibit and archive. In lieu of physical repatriation, the exhibit producers leveraged the RRN’s API (Application Programming Interface) to recontextualize publicly available institutional data as a virtual repatriation of the collection. “Inuvialuit Living History” demonstrates ongoing connections between the MacFarlane Collection and contemporary Inuvialuit knowledge and cultural practice. In the process, new questions are raised about histories of ownership, the possibility of physical repatriation, and opportunities and challenges associated with the digitization and return of cultural heritage.

Keywords: Inuvialuit, Smithsonian, MacFarlane Collection, Reciprocal Research Network, API, virtual repatriation


Digital technologies are providing heritage institutions and stakeholder communities with new possibilities for sharing curatorial and ethnographic authority. In recent years, a number of projects have demonstrated the potential for museum digitization initiatives to connect tangible and intangible cultural collections to Aboriginal peoples in particular, opening up discussions of the benefits and problems associated with “digital repatriation,” or the return of heritage documentation in digital form to communities of origin (Hennessy, 2009, 2010; Resta et al., 2002; Powell, 2011).

In these projects, technical experimentation and innovation intersects with diverse cultural contexts and protocols, research ethics, and approaches to ownership of cultural property. The Mukurtu Archive and the Plateau Peoples’ Portal (Christen, 2011), for example, demonstrate possibilities for integrating digital cultural objects into archives that respect and support existing cultural traditions and practices by replicating dynamic protocols for access and circulation of cultural knowledge.

In another example, a collaboration between the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center (AAMHC) representing the Zuni Nation (Srinivasan et al., 2010) makes digital collections available for local reconnection to narrative and other forms of intangible knowledge.

These new works in media and heritage are challenging the default of open access in favor of local control over sensitive cultural heritage (Christen, 2009), while demonstrating the extent to which institutional ontologies have previously excluded Aboriginal interpretations of their material culture.

These initiatives similarly grapple with the legacy of colonial collecting practices, which resulted in the global distribution and accessioning of Aboriginal cultural heritage. GRASAC, the Great Lakes Alliance for the Study of Aboriginal Arts and Culture, was created with the goal of determining if it would be “possible to use information technology to digitally reunite Great Lakes heritage that is currently scattered across museums and archives in North American and Europe with Aboriginal community knowledge, memory, and perspectives” (GRASAC, 2008), suggesting possibilities for the generation of new cultural knowledge by reuniting fragmented Aboriginal collections.

The Virtual Museum of Canada exhibit Dane Wajich––Dane-zaa Stories and Songs: Dreamers and the Land (Doig River First Nation, 2007) has shown that digitization and virtual repatriation initiatives must take into account local cultural property rights discourse, and that while the digitization and return of cultural documentation to communities of origin can facilitate self-representation and the articulation of local cultural property rights, digitization and circulation can make it virtually impossible to enforce those rights (Hennessy, 2009, 2010; Ridington and Hennessy, 2008).

With the initiation of these projects and many more in production, institutional collections data are becoming accessible to descendant communities, and web developers are facilitating Aboriginal recontextualization of their digital heritage in new forms. A series of questions are raised in the process: How do new digitization practices shift the balance between institutional expertise and Aboriginal participation in the representation of their cultural heritage? How are existing systems of ownership, copyright, and intellectual property rights challenged as originating communities gain better knowledge of their cultural property in museum collections? How are these technologies able to accommodate and reflect indigenous protocols for the management and circulation of cultural knowledge?  

In this paper, we begin to explore of the effects of digitization and access in the Reciprocal Research Network (RRN), an online museum portal that has been co-developed by the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in collaboration with three Northwest Coast First Nations––the Musqueam Indian Band, the U’mista Cultural Society, and the Stó:lō  Nation/Stó:lō  Tribal Council––and currently partners with a total of nineteen international museum institutions that have made their Northwest Coast collections data available in a single online archive.

In particular, we are interested in the role of the RRN’s Application Programming Interface (API) in facilitating Aboriginal self-representation of cultural heritage. We describe elements of a virtual museum exhibit created by the Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada, and collaborating researchers, curators, and media producers (the authors included). Inuvialuit Pitqusiit Inuuniarutait: Inuvialuit Living History (Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre, 2012) used the RRN’s API to curate and remediate object records from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History’s MacFarlane Collection––which originated in Inuvialuit territory––and to reconnect the collection to intangible knowledge, local cultural practices, and revitalization initiatives.

The Reciprocal Research Network

The RRN’s homepage ( features a welcome in three First Nations’ languages––Hǝn̓q̓ǝmin̓ǝm̓, Halq'eméylem, and Kwak̓wala––representing the languages of the project’s co-developers, the Musqueam Indian Band, the U’mista Cultural Society, and the Stó:lō  Nation/Stó:lō  Tribal Council. In January 2012, the RRN listed access to over 400,000 objects coming from a growing number of holding institutions, including the First Nations’ co-developers (RRN, 2012). These digital object records are available to registered users through a faceted search interface (see Rowley et al., 2010).

 Figure 1: The Reciprocal Research Network’s faceted search interface]

Users can create their own collections, virtually dropping them into a metaphorical Northwest Coast bentwood box, invite collaboration and conversation from other researchers and holding institutions, and attach media and information to object records (Iverson et al., 2008; Rowley et al., 2010).

According to RRN project lead Sue Rowley and her coauthors,

Our goal was to develop a new research tool for accessing information housed in geographically dispersed locales as well as providing networking functions for effective engagement and collaboration among researchers with diverse backgrounds. Most significantly, the creation of this virtual research space emerged from the desire of all participants to base the project on the principles of respect for the originating communities’ different knowledge and value systems as well as for the partner museums. (Rowley et al., 2010:15) 

In keeping with these intentions, the RRN homepage also displays a striking blue, black, and white logo designed by Terry Point, a member of the Musqueam Indian Band, and William Wasden Jr., a member of the ‘Na̱mg̱is tribe of the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw First Nations (RRN, 2012). Point and Wasden were both RRN interns between 2004 and 2005 and developed the logo considering traditional navigation and creation themes, relating ideas of communication and renewal of knowledge to the function of the RRN. The logo depicts dynamic elements of a canoe, salmon, killer whale, and human beings. A “messenger canoe” in the mouth of the human is described as being used to rescue salmon from low-water rivers and relocated to new territory, while a “box of treasures” in the middle of the canoe represents cultural knowledge being returned to descendant communities through the RRN (RRN, 2012). The box of treasures finds its digital counterpart in the RRN’s servers, processors, and data storage, which have been structured to support the reciprocal sharing of knowledge between researchers, members of originating communities, students, and museum institutions.

It remains to be seen how the RRN will be able to facilitate the kind of reciprocal research and collaboration suggested by its logo. Will it be labeled as one of many emerging “asymmetric spaces of appropriation” (Boast, 2011:63) currently being developed in the name of collaboration and spirit of repatriation? Does the project merely replicate anthropology’s salvage paradigm in digital form, seeking additional cultural data to enhance institutional collections without giving in return? Or might technical experimentation and innovation, the forging of new partnerships, and collaborative media production facilitate the kind of reciprocal research initiatives that the RRN was built to create? “Virtual repatriation” is a contested term; copyright of digital materials and their originals is rarely returned to communities of origin in the course of projects described as digital repatriations, making the term suspect at best (see Reed, 2009, on the Hopi Music Repatriation Project, and Fox and Chie, 2007, on a Columbia University Musical Heritage Repatriation Project, for rare examples of the repatriation of ownership of intangible cultural heritage). As RRN community liaison David Houghton (2010) wrote:,

Virtual repatriation seems nothing more than lip service to an idealized concept. The reality is it is just a capacity building exercise on the museum side. Repatriating cultural artifacts will stay firmly ensconced with the status quo of the institutions. Capturing and preserving indigenous knowledge is important work. Community based involvement with an increasing recognition of the value and relevance of originating communities is now spurning a whole new branch for museums involving information technologies.

With this critique of virtual repatriation in mind, we suggest that the RRN should also be understood as a tool for Aboriginal self-representation and reclamation of ethnographic authority, a process that “requires that museums learn to let go of their resources, even at times of the objects, for the benefit of the use of communities and agendas far beyond its knowledge and control (Boast, 2011:67). To this end we look at the RRN’s API and the Inuvialuit Living History Project, which used the RRN’s API to represent the Smithsonian’s MacFarlane collection from an Inuvialuit perspective. 

The Reciprocal Research Network’s Application Programming Interface

An API is a publicly available software toolkit that makes computer code, documentation, and terms of service relating to an organization’s data available “so that people can access and republish content created within them” (Ananny, 2011: 31). While APIs are designed to create access to information architectures and data, the structures of APIs both mediate and determine what access to data means (Ananny, 2011).  The RRN API is an interface that simplifies automated access to its publicly available digital collections records. This enables developers to make use of those records in new works and applications. While the API facilitates a new degree of public access to collections, it also represents an opportunity for originating communities to recontextualize their cultural heritage in new digital forms, reclaiming control over their representation of history and culture.

Though the purpose of the RRN API is to facilitate automated access, it is not solely for machines. In order to encourage its use, we (Wallace and Jakobsen) felt it was necessary to focus on optimizing the API's user experience. Other museums that have taken this route include the Brooklyn Museum API (Bernstein, 2008) and the Victoria and Albert Museum (Lewis, 2011). As much as possible, we tried to use the same terminology within the API as on the website itself. We wanted it to be immediately obvious what each field contained without need for a detailed description of abbreviations or synonyms used. Though slightly more verbose, we also include all fields in the API responses to allow the developer to see all data fields without consulting extra documentation.
Like the RRN website, the API was built using a REST-style architecture. REST (Representational State Transfer) architectures  are based on the concept of exposing collections of elements (resources) to the user. A RESTful API works by responding with different representations of the same resource based on the user’s request. In the case of the RRN’s API, the primary resource being exposed is items from participating museums. Any item or collection of items can be retrieved in one of two representations: XML or JSON. What differentiates the RRN’s API from those of other museums is that it shares the same RESTful architecture as the website itself. One can think of the entire RRN as an API with XML and JSON representations for machines and a third representation, HTML, for humans. Whereas the XML and JSON representations expose only item data such as materials, cultures, and dates, the HTML representation provides additional content for users to interact with. This scheme allows developers to experiment with the API’s search capabilities using the RRN’s rich HTML user interface. Switching between these representations is as easy as changing the extension at the end of the URL. For example, using the RRN’s faceted search tools, a user could navigate to for a list all of mittens, while will return the same list in a JSON representation.

(Figure 2a: Mittens from the Smithsonian in an HTML representation)

(Figure 2b: Mittens from the Smithsonian in a JSON representation)

(Figure 2c: Mittens from the Smithsonian in an XML representation)

In this way, the RRN’s API should be understood as a tool that promotes the recontextualization of data by people, as well as by machines. We see the RRN’s API as illustrative of broader movements in museum institutions to use digital tools in the service of greater transparency and engagement with stakeholder publics. 

From the MacFarlane Collection to Inuvialuit Living History

Roderick MacFarlane was a Hudson’s Bay Company trader who established Fort Anderson on the Anderson River in the Mackenzie Delta in 1861 and remained in charge for the next five years. It was the first post in the Northwest Territories aimed at trading with the Inuvialuit, but was abandoned in 1866 largely as a result of a disease epidemic that ravaged the region (Morrison, 2006). While serving at Fort Anderson, MacFarlane was recruited by Robert Kennicott, an agent of the Smithsonian Institution, to collect natural and cultural history specimens for the museum. 

The MacFarlane Collection came to include over 5,000 objects, most of them natural history specimens but also many ethnographic objects such as skin clothing, hunting tools, pipes, adornments, and graphic arts. The majority of these objects went to the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., while some were donated to the McCord Museum (then the Natural History Society in Montréal, Canada) and the National Museums of Scotland (then the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art) (Morrison, 2006). A small amount of the MacFarlane collected objects that came to the Smithsonian were later exchanged with other institutions principally in Chicago and Copenhagen.

The MacFarlane Collection is arguably the most significant assemblage of Inuvialuit ethnographic artifacts, but it has never been exhibited in its entirety. While the collection had been partially photographed, and digital catalogue information was available on the National Museum of Natural History’s website, the collection had remained largely inaccessible to Inuvialuit peoples, separated by great distance and by unfamiliarity with the Smithsonian’s online catalogue. Available online catalogue information communicated what little was known about the objects, and organized the collection using generalist regional identifiers such as “Northwest Territories, Canada” and outdated categories such as “Eskimo.” 

(Fig. 3: Mervin Joe, James Pokiak, Albert Elias, Catherine Cockney, Karis Gruben, Freda Raddi, Natasha Lyons, and Dave Stewart discuss and document objects in the MacFarlane Collection at the Smithsonian’s Museum Support Center. Photo by K. Hennessy, 2009.)

The collection is of great interest to contemporary Inuvialuit peoples, who are actively engaged in building educational resources for Inuvialuit communities and representing Inuvialuit culture and language to local, national, and international audiences. In 2009, we (Hennessy and Arnold) traveled with an Inuvialuit delegation from the Western Arctic, and a team of filmmakers, archaeologists, and educators to view the MacFarlane Collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

The delegation to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History included, from the north: James Pokiak, Albert Elias, and Helen Gruben (Inuvialuit Elders); Karis Gruben and Shayne Cockney (Inuvialuit youth); Freda Raddi (a seamstress); Brett Purdy, Dave Stewart, and Maia Lepage (documentary producers from the Inuvialuit Communications Society); and two trip organizers––Cathy Cockney, manager of the Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre, and Mervin Joe, from Parks Canada, Inuvik. From the south, our team included: Natasha Lyons (Ursus Heritage Consulting, Inuvialuit-Smithsonian Project Director and Organizer), Charles Arnold (University of Calgary), Kate Hennessy (Simon Fraser University), and Stephen Loring (Smithsonian Institution, Arctic Studies Center) (for a detailed report on the trip and its preliminary outcomes, see Lyons et al., 2011). Our delegation spent five days in the collections storage facility at the Smithsonian’s Museum Support Center with curator and project partner Stephen Loring, handling, discussing, and documenting the MacFarlane Collection.

(Fig. 4: Dave Stewart, Shayne Cockney, and Stephen Loring interview Albert Elias about objects in the MacFarlane Collection. Photo by K. Hennessy, 2009.)

Recognition of the responsibility of museums to make their collections accessible to descendant community interests has been a defining component of the Smithsonian’s Arctic Studies Center since its inception (Loring,2001, 2009, 2010; Crowell et al., 2001, 2010). Museum collections represent significant repositories of intangible forms of knowledge that are encoded in tangible objects. Their role in eliciting narrative expressions and use as political touchstones has been well documented (see Fienup-Riordan, 2003a, 2003b; and Clifford, 1997).

The responses of our Inuvialuit team members to the MacFarlane Collection, similarly inspired by reconnection to their material heritage, were documented by Inuvialuit Communications Society producers, and became a documentary called A Case of Access (Inuvialuit Communications Society, 2011) that came to be featured on the Inuvialuit Living History website with interactive links to object records in our exhibit.

However, beyond communicating the results of our workshop, our team wondered if it would be possible to extend the experience of exploring the collection to more Inuvialuit peoples and the general public, and to create a forum within which Inuvialuit knowledge of the collection could be elicited, curated, and represented in an Inuvialuit-owned virtual space. We decided to embark on the production of an online exhibit and dynamic archive that would contribute to the revitalization of the MacFarlane collection as a “living collection”––hence the name of the site: Inuvialuit Pitqusiit Inuuniarutiat: Inuvialuit Living History.

Our first step was to request that the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History make the MacFarlane Collection’s digital data available in the RRN. As the National Museum of Natural History was an existing RRN partner, they had only made their Northwest Coast collections available at that point. Facilitated by the Smithsonian’s Stephen Loring and Carrie Beauchamp, the MacFarlane records were added to the data feed provided to the RRN, and the RRN’s data mapper automatically processed these new records and made them available in the system. Once this had been done and we had been granted permission from the Smithsonian Institution to recontextualize the MacFarlane Collection digital data without limitation, we used the RRN’s API to appropriate images and catalogue information (see

The Inuvialuit Living History virtual exhibit in its present iteration is organized around the presentation of both objects in the MacFarlane Collection and multimedia documentation of our delegation’s first encounter with the objects in Washington, D.C. It has been designed to function as an archive of user contributions, ongoing research activities, and community projects that are being developed as interest in the collection grows and as funding and resources become available. The exhibit has been created to be fully editable by our team, so that the website itself can grow and change as priorities and interests shift over time. In the course of production since 2009, members of our team have conducted several major community consultations in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, visiting with elders, community workers, and teachers and school children.

Each consultation has raised new questions about the collection, access to it, ownership of it, its potential repatriation to the north, all of which have informed successive iterations of our exhibit design. Building on the affordances of the RRN’s API as a tool for recontextualization of digital collections, the production of the virtual exhibit has been grounded in a process of rewriting curatorial descriptions of the objects, revising classificatory categories, and using semantic web and tagging functions to build new relationships between objects records and related media. We describe this process and its outcomes below.

Recontextualizing collections data: Rewriting curatorial descriptions, classifications, and types

The task of acquiring and presenting information about the objects in the MacFarlane Collection was undertaken by a curatorial team consisting of Charles Arnold, Joanne Bird, Stephen Loring, and Darrel Nasogaluak. Arnold, Bird and Loring brought extensive knowledge of museum practices and academic knowledge of Inuvialuit ethnography. Nasogaluak contributed expertise that he has acquired through observations of and discussions with his Inuvialuit elders, through firsthand experience making and using traditional Inuvialuit material culture, and through his extensive reading of written accounts of Inuvialuit culture.

One of the issues we had to address was how to organize and describe the items in the MacFarlane Collection in ways that aligned with Inuvialuit knowledge of and perceptions about their traditional material culture while employing current curatorial methodologies. We also had to keep in mind how best to facilitate access to that information in a virtual environment.

(Fig. 5: An original object label describing deerskin mittens, MacFarlane Collection, National Museum of Natural History. Photo by K. Hennessy, 2009.)

The original catalogue for the collection includes a functional identification for most of the objects, and in some cases a brief description of the item and identification of the materials from which the item was made. The genesis of the information in this catalogue is not clear. Quite likely MacFarlane provided a list and perhaps other notes with the artifacts, but unfortunately we were not able to locate that documentation. We assume that MacFarlane learned about the functions of many of the items through observations and from information provided by Inuvialuit.

It is also quite likely that some of the identifications were provided by a Roman Catholic missionary, Émile Petitot, who visited Fort Anderson in March 1865 and spent some time travelling with local Inuvialuit. Petitot’s interest in Inuvialuit material culture is demonstrated by descriptions and illustrations many similar objects in various publications (Petitot, 1878, 1887). French-language terms used for some of the objects in the MacFarlane Collection, such as capuchon (cap) and chignon (topknot), may have been contributed by Petitot.

We chose not to rely entirely on the original catalogue information for the website. For one thing, the catalogue uses the now-outdated term “Esquimaux” whereas current practice is to use “Inuvialuit.” In addition, in some instances we were able to identify items that were not identified in the original catalogue, and through our work we were able to determine that some items had been misidentified.

In order to verify and update information about items in the collection, we began by discussing them with Inuvialuit elders. The elders who were part of the 2009 delegation to the Smithsonian Institution contributed a considerable body of information, including names (in English and Inuvialuktun) of many of the items, how they were made, and how they were used. We also consulted elders in their home communities, using a comprehensive set of photographs taken by the Smithsonian Institution as well as by members of the project team. The curatorial team also conducted extensive research of published and non-published sources of information on traditional Inuvialuit material culture.

Based on this information, the objects were organized into categories (“types”) such as knives and pipes, which allowed us to provide general information pertinent to all objects in each category without having to repeat that information for each individual item. More detailed descriptions are provided for each individual item. Our objective at this level was to provide sufficient information so that the viewer could, by using that information in conjunction with the images that are provided on the website, visualize each individual item.

However, reorganization of objects into new categories, and the tagging of object records and newly recorded media, also resulted in the creation of new semantic relationships between object records and documentary media. For example, object records are now related to images of the delegation viewing the MacFarlane Collection at the Smithsonian, of the team’s research activities in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, of related school activities, and of recreations of objects by community members, representing the collection as a part of contemporary Inuvialuit cultural life once again. MacFarlane Collection objects can also now be searched using these new semantic categories, including, in addition to English, Inuvialuktun language terms to locate artifact types.

(Fig. 6: Inuvialuit Living History screen shot: Inuvialuktun-language search for aitqatik, or mittens)

In addition to the curatorial descriptions, we have also made provisions for “Community interpretations” and “Historical Documentation.” The Community Interpretations provide an opportunity for Inuvialuit today to add their own knowledge of items in the collection, as well as personal reflections on their traditional culture. Submissions of information from users are sent to an Inuvialuit committee to moderate, discuss, and determine what should be posted on the website. Each object record includes a link back to its counterpart in the RRN, where contributions can be made, questions can be asked, and institutional curators can be contacted in a password protected space.

The Historical Documentation includes firsthand accounts by non-Inuvialuit observers of traditional Inuvialuit culture that contribute to an understanding of the items in the collection. In keeping with our goal of ensuring that this will be a “living” website, ongoing activities and educational programs have been or will be devised that will generate additional information for both the Community Interpretation and Historical Documentation sections of the website.  For our production team, the RRN’s API was a tool that facilitated ongoing dialogue at many levels––from the development of the virtual exhibit’s interface to the cultural activities that recontextualizing the data required––that will continue to add new knowledge about the collection and at the same time allow people to make the collection relevant to their own experiences.


The Inuvialuit Living History Project, ideally a work in perpetual progress, constitutes an attempt to relate media objects and cultural knowledge in new ways, and to communicate both the experiences of our Inuvialuit delegation with the MacFarlane Collection and forms of knowledge associated with the collection that have emerged in the context of our collaborations. After the Inuvialuit Living History Project is officially launched in early 2012, a new phase of our collective work in representing the MacFarlane Collection, and in understanding the effects of institutional collections digitization and Aboriginal remediation, will begin. This will include funding and carrying out related research and media production projects in collaboration with our project partners, such as Parks Canada in Inuvik, archiving these activities on the website, and semantically relating them to MacFarlane Collection object records. Such projects may be aimed at recreating objects from the collection; for example, sewing clothing from patterns traced by members of the Inuvialuit delegation to Washington, D.C., or fabricating replicas of artifacts for use in Parks Canada interpretive programs and in schools in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. Our goal is to build on the digital design and cultural work described in this paper, and to support ongoing initiatives that potentially reconnect and recirculate intangible knowledge of objects in the MacFarlane Collection. A further outcome of this project may be the long-term loan of MacFarlane Collection objects for exhibition in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region; however, this remains to be negotiated, funded, and carried out.

Mobilization of the RRN’s API has been central in our process of reframing institutional collections data and creating new and dynamic relationships between media objects. We have taken seriously the notion that the RRN’s API exists for the remediation of its publicly available digital information, and we continue to explore what it might mean for the Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre to use the RRN’s API to “make something great” (RRN, 2012). We see value in an API that has been designed with human beings, as much as machines, in mind. As we use the Smithsonian Institution’s digital data in ways perhaps not previously imagined by the holding institution, and indeed beyond institutional control (Boast, 2011), we hope to better understand the meaning, possibilities, and challenges associated with “virtual repatriation” in Inuvialuit communities, the Smithsonian Institution, and beyond.


The authors thank all the other members of the Inuvialuit Living History project team: Natasha Lyons, Project Director, Ursus Heritage Consulting; Catherine Cockney, Manager, Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre; Albert Elias, Inuvialuit Elder and interpreter, Inuvik; Mervin Joe, Parks Canada, Inuvik; Maia Lepage, Photographer, Inuvik; Stephen Loring, Arctic Studies Center, Smithsonian Institution; James Pokiak, Inuvialuit Elder and hunter, Tuktoyaktuk.

We also acknowledge all of the members of the 2009 delegation to view the MacFarlane Collection This included James Pokiak, Albert Elias, Helen Gruben, Karis Gruben, Shayne Cockney, Freda Raddi, Brett Purdy, Dave Stewart, Maia Lepage, Catherine Cockney, Mervin Joe, Natasha Lyons, and Stephen Loring. Our special thanks to Natasha Lyons, Stephen Loring and Catherine Cockney for their excellent comments and suggestions on drafts of this paper. Thank you to Mike Ananny at Microsoft Research New England, and to research and media assistants Irine Prastio and Karen Truong at Simon Fraser University’s School of Interactive Art and Technology,

Our special thanks also to Sue Rowley at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, and the members of the RRN Steering Committee (Sue Rowley, Dave Schaepe, Leona Sparrow, Andrea Sanborn, and Sarah Holland) for their consistent support of this project. Thank you to Carrie Beauchamp at the Smithsonian Institution for her guidance and technical assistance in making the Inuvialuit Living History project possible.


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Read more: Virtual Repatriation and the Application Programming Interface: From the Smithsonian Institution’s MacFarlane Collection to “Inuvialuit Living History” |