Dollman, Melissa et al. 2021. Tribesourcing Southwest
Films: Counter-Narrations and Reclamation.
Creation, Dissemination, and Preservation Studies
Tribesourcing Southwest Films:
Counter-Narrations and Reclamation
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Jennifer L. Jenkins
University of Arizona
As a work in progress, the
Tribesourcing Southwest Film Project
seeks to decolonize
midcentury US educational films about the Native peoples of the Southwestern
United States by recording counter-narrations from cultural insiders. These films
originate from the American Indian Film Gallery, a collection awarded to the
University of Arizona (UA) in 2011. Made in the mid-twentieth century for the US
K–12 educational and television markets, these 16 mm Kodachrome films reflect
mainstream cultural attitudes of the day. The fully saturated-color visual narratives
are for the most part quite remarkable, although the male "voice of God" narration
often pronounces meaning that is inaccurate or disrespectful. At this historical
distance, many of these films have come to be understood by both Native community
insiders and outside scholars as documentation of cultural practices and lifeways—
and, indeed, languages—that are receding as practitioners and speakers pass on.
The Tribesourcingfilm.com project seeks to rebalance the historical record through
collaborative digital intervention, intentionally shifting emphasis from external
perceptions of Native peoples to the voices, knowledges, and languages of the
peoples represented in the films by participatory recording of new narrations for
the films. Native narrators record new narrations for the films, actively decolonizing
this collection and performing information redress through the merger of vintage
visuals and new audio.
Keywords: Indigenous knowledge; audiovisual records; cultural sovereignty; cultural
reclamation; 1940s–2010s; media literacy
The Tribesourcing Southwest Film Project is a work in progress that seeks to decolonize midcentury US
educational films about the Native peoples of the Southwestern United States by recording counter-narrations
from cultural insiders. These films originate from the American Indian Film Gallery, a collection awarded to
the University of Arizona (UA) in 2011. Made in the mid-twentieth century for the US K–12 educational and
television markets, these 16 mm Kodachrome films reflect mainstream cultural attitudes of the day. The fully
saturated-color visual narratives are for the most part quite remarkable, but the male “voice of God” narration
often pronounces meaning that is inaccurate or disrespectful. At our historical distance, many of these films
have come to be understood by both Native community insiders and outside scholars as documentation
of cultural practices and lifeways—and, indeed, languages—that are receding as practitioners and speakers
pass on. The Tribesourcingfilm.com project (Figure 1) seeks to rebalance the historical record through
collaborative digital intervention, intentionally shifting emphasis from external perceptions of Native peoples
to the voices, knowledges, and languages of the peoples represented in the films by participatory recording of
new narrations for the films. Native narrators record new narrations for the films, actively decolonizing this
collection and performing information redress through the merger of vintage visuals and new audio.
Art. XX, page 2 of 7 Dollman et al.: Tribesourcing Southwest Films: Counter-Narrations and Reclamation
“Tribesourcing” invokes the notion of crowdsourcing, or inviting a dispersed public for assistance in
identifying a variety of aspects of the audiovisual archival artifacts, such as names of people, locations,
and practices shown onscreen. For the present Tribesourcing Southwest Film Project, Native narrators are
identified from within their respective communities by regional coordinators embedded within those
communities through organic processes such as word-of-mouth invitation and outreach. By encouraging
narrators to drive the counter-narrative how they see fit and compensating them for their contributions,
this aspect avoids becoming yet another example of soliciting free and invisible labor from communities of
color. Films in this project are streamed through the content management system Mukurtu’s interface, with
adjacent alternate narrations from speakers from within the represented culture in English and in Native1
languages.2 This method allows for an approach, unmediated by outsiders, to identification of people, places,
practices, vocabulary, and stories that might otherwise be lost, as well as provides a rich, community-based
metadata record for each film.3
Taking a small step toward cultural repatriation of content, Tribesourcing as a methodology is guided
by the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials (2006) and the groundbreaking work of Margaret
Kovach (2010) and Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2012). The Protocols, above all else, operate on an assumption
of continual consultation within relationships of mutual respect. While originally designed to address
material objects within archival institutions and to work in concert with the Native American Graves
Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), the Protocols are nonetheless highly adaptable to archival
1 Preferred terminology varies from one geographical region and one culture to the next. In Canada, Indigenous or First Nation might
be the term of choice; in most of US Indian Country, Native is the commonly preferred adjective.
2 At the time of this writing Mukurtu is still built on a Drupal 7 framework. According to a January 2020 message from the Mukurtu
Development and Support team, they will accordingly shift to a different framework in 2021.
3 Mukurtu is a Warumungu word meaning a safe keeping place for sacred materials. The content management system was developed in
2007 in a collaboration between Warumungu people of Australia and information scientists Kim Christen and Craig Dietrich, and it is
now based at Washington State University. See https://mukurtu.org/about/.
4 The basic principles of the Protocols are: 1. Building Relationships of Mutual Respect; 2. Striving for Balance in Content and
Perspectives; 3. Accessibility and Use; 4. Culturally Sensitive Materials; 5. Providing Context; 6. Native American Intellectual Property
Issues; 7. Copying and Repatriation of Records to Native American Communities; 8. Native American Research Protocols; 9. Reciprocal
Education and Training; 10. Awareness of Native American Communities and Issues.
Figure 1: Screenshot of the Tribesourcing Southwest Film Project home page.
Dollman et al.: Tribesourcing Southwest Films: Counter-Narrations and Reclamation Art. XX, page 3 of 7
The films in this project represent just a small portion of the over 450 midcentury films about Native, First
Nations, and Indigenous peoples of the Americas that were collected by J. Fred MacDonald, a historian
originally from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. While a professor of history at Northern Illinois University,
MacDonald began buying up school and library collections of educational, industrial, and tourist films when
public facilities were beginning to “upgrade” their media resources to videotape, mainly in VHS format, in
the 1980s. Countless reels of 16 mm film—and the information they contained—were saved from landfills.
MacDonald’s plan was to digitize the films and place them in an online archive of sorts, which he called
the American Indian Film Gallery. When he got ready to retire, MacDonald put out a call for proposals for
stewardship of the collection. UA’s proposal was successful for a number of reasons. The State of Arizona is
home to twenty-two federally recognized tribes and over 250,000 Native Americans. Reservations and tribal
communities occupy over a quarter of Arizona’s lands. Founded in 1885 as the state’s land-grant university,
UA is a premier public research university where over one thousand Native students are presently pursuing
undergraduate and graduate degrees across the spectrum of disciplines. The UA School of Information (SI)
supports a signature program, the Knowledge River (KR) initiative for Hispanic and American Indian Library
and Information Issues. From 2011 to 2016, Knowledge River interns worked on the UA legacy project
the American Indian Film Gallery (https://aifg.arizona.edu/). The cultural, geographical, and educational
context of UA therefore conceptually informs this project, although it now resides wholly in cyberspace.
Once at UA, the collection posed a dilemma from the perspective of user experience. Rather than simply
hosting a static website, we wanted to adapt the collection as an educational resource for Indigenous as
well as non-Indigenous communities. The midcentury content thus raised some interesting questions:
although the historicity of the films is a useful teaching tool, and some films document past artisanal pro-
cesses in silversmithing, basketry, textile weaving, and the like, how could voiced midcentury attitudes go
unanswered? What was a feasible adaptation of the nearly 460 “vintage” films? While the visuals represent
the Golden Age of Kodachrome 16 mm filmmaking, the audio tracks often derive from the dark ages of
cultural insensitivity and misprision. The solution was to take the films back into the communities where
they were made and invite narrators from within the culture to record informed and culturally sensitive
narrations for the films: Tribesourcing. The digital humanities site would provide the means to blend orig-
inal film and new narrations—an active form of decolonization and repatriation of image and voice. In
2017, the US National Endowment for the Humanities funded a three-year project based on the premise of
Tribesourcing, “The Afterlife of Film: Tribesourcing Southwestern Materials in the American Indian Film
Gallery.” The NEH grant funded new digital scans of sixty films about Southwestern US Native peoples, our
nearest neighbors, and provided funding to pay narrators for their time and knowledge. The very first
Tribesourced film, “Arts and Crafts of the Southwest Indians (1953)” (Figure 2), was prepared as a demon-
stration piece for possible narrators and funding agencies. The Native female speaker strikes immediate
contrast with the white, male “voice of god,” opening with a greeting in Diné Bizaad, identifying herself
and her location, thereby speaking to her authority in narrating this film. She then proceeds to identify
and explain onscreen locations, individuals, and practices as they come into view from a position of cultural
competency. This narration literally speaks truth to power by countering the essentializing and generalized
voiceover of the original film.
The process of identifying narrators is best handled within the communities. Thus, paid Tribal Narration
Coordinators perform the essential function of recruiting and working with narrators on site. Rhiannon
Sorrell serves in this position at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona. Having done the very first counter-narration
as proof-of-concept for the Tribesourcing project, she is well equipped to explain the project to potential
narrators and oversee recordings and payments for narrators, as follows:
As part of the initial proposal, I’d already identified potential collaborators in various departments
and offices of the college, including the Diné Policy Institute (DPI) and the Center for Diné Studies (now
part of the School of Diné Studies and Education), as well as local community knowledge holders.
Moving closer to the recording stage, however, I soon found that explaining the project and carrying
out recordings would not be as straightforward as I originally planned, as I could already see that
there was a range of different interpretations, understandings, and approaches among family, friends,
and colleagues with whom I discussed the project. Because of this, I knew moving forward that no two
narrators would follow the same template (nor should they be expected to) and that I would have to
work closely with each to help them put out what they wanted to communicate about the films.
Art. XX, page 4 of 7 Dollman et al.: Tribesourcing Southwest Films: Counter-Narrations and Reclamation
The narrative approaches, styles, reactions, and goals are as varied as the narrators themselves.
Among the first narrators were employees of the Diné Policy Institute, who were well equipped to
educate viewers on places, events, activities, and people depicted in their respective films in a more
straightforward manner from a Diné academic perspective. By contrast, there are narrations done
completely in the Diné language by an elderly couple who focus on describing various activities
depicted in the films and explaining the significance of each activity to Diné livelihood. A younger Diné
couple exchange stories, experiences, and teachings among themselves and discuss their potential
impact on their children. As more recordings were carried out and more narrators from myriad
backgrounds recruited, I found that the initial “prompt” that I’d used to help focus the discussion of the
films shifted. Instead of merely asking for explanations of the films, I found that narrators were more
responsive to the request to talk about the films as if future generations of Diné children would be
watching them: what would they want them to know? Thus, narrators could more clearly see how their
voices contribute to reclamation of these visual artifacts.
Perhaps the biggest indication of reclamation and integration back into the community is their use
as instructional aids in a number of curricula. In the tribal college setting, there is a higher demand for
traditional knowledge resources to be used in and out of the typical classroom setting. Because the
passing down of traditional knowledge (often existing in the form of songs, stories, demonstrations,
etc.) has typically been a carefully guided performative process, much is lost, absent, misappropriated,
or distorted in a vast majority of written texts which are overwhelmingly written by non-Native authors.
Through collaboration with narrators from organizations such as the Navajo Cultural Arts Program,
which works in an academic and community outreach setting to enhance and revitalize the Navajo
cultural arts through hands-on programming and apprenticeship, the films and their counter-
narrations support a more culturally appropriate curriculum that focuses on the intergenerational
transfer of knowledge.
The Digital Humanities Site
From its inception, this project has existed at the crossroads of Indigenous studies, film and media
studies, and public digital humanities. In addition to facilitating image, voice, and cultural reclamation,
the project promotes media literacy through users’ access and response to the films. Mukurtu as a
digital content management system affords us the means by which to reach a broad user base in Indian
Figure 2: Screenshot of one of the “Browse Digital Heritage” pages on the Tribesourcing Southwest Film Project website,
which shows a list of films with completed alternate audio narration, including the very first Tribesourced film, “Arts
and Crafts of the Southwest Indians (1953).”
Dollman et al.: Tribesourcing Southwest Films: Counter-Narrations and Reclamation Art. XX, page 5 of 7
Country, where geographical distances often inhibit access to primary materials. The intellectual content
resides with our Native partners, and dissemination and access occur through this digital project that we
steward. Close collaboration with Native Nations, even remotely, helps to ensure cultural competence in
information management and provide context for film content. These are two fundamental principles of
the aforementioned Protocols for Native American Archival Materials. To that end, Mukurtu also provides
a community with the opportunity to implement the Protocols both logistically and methodologically in
regard to materials on the site. The platform’s “Protocols”5 function gives full agency to each tribe or band
to decide whether a particular film is open for public viewing or restricted to specific community members.
Additionally, through Mukurtu’s integration of Local Contexts’ Traditional Knowledge (TK) Labels, members
can attribute iconographic labels that denote cultural restrictions under which materials can or cannot be
viewed (e.g., gender or seasonal conditions). TK labels also denote if the content needs additional verification,
requires attribution to a particular custodian or owner, and other safeguards.
Mukurtu’s interface provides “Digital Heritage” pages for digitally displaying new narrations, metadata
and keywords, and TK Labels alongside the video player (Figure 3). These features strategically serve our
project’s objective. In lieu of abandoning the filmmaker’s conventional and problematic narratives alto-
gether, newly created counter-narratives and associated metadata subvert the films’ original rhetorical
conventions and prompt the viewer to question the original films’ visual and spoken argumentation. This
new contextual information does “more justice to the reality and complexity of the world as people expe-
rience[d] it” (Posner 2016). The platform also incorporates into its user interface Google maps, HTML5
video and audio players, and linked data between films, and it integrates with third-party streaming plat-
forms such as Vimeo, YouTube, and Soundcloud. UA’s servers originally hosted the Tribesourcing site and
all of its content. In 2019, precipitated by a need for timely control over practical technical aspects such as
upgrading the software, we moved the project to Reclaim Hosting’s shared hosting services. More impor-
tantly, our team felt the ethical obligation to forestall the university’s potential proprietary control of
information, as all material on university servers is owned by the Board of Regents. We were particularly
5 To be clear, the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials is a guidance document devised by Native, First Nations, and Indigenous
archivists. The “Protocols” function of the Mukurtu platform allows for local control of access to cultural materials presented on the site.
Figure 3: Screenshot of the Mukurtu interface used by the Tribesourcing Southwest Film Project. With this interface,
the project can display new narrations, metadata and keywords, and TK Labels alongside the video player.
Art. XX, page 6 of 7 Dollman et al.: Tribesourcing Southwest Films: Counter-Narrations and Reclamation
concerned about the newly created counter-narrations that only exist on the project site and with the
tribal partner communities.
Moving to shared hosting was not a seamless process. Unfortunately, we encountered one insurmounta-
ble issue: streaming such large video files directly from the content management system. Mukurtu as a
platform can stream video and audio files through its interface, and when the project’s newly digitized films
files were stored on the university servers we did just that, despite the fact that the file sizes range anywhere
from 750 MB to 3 GB, depending on length. However, files of these sizes continually surpassed the maxi-
mum execution time limit for php processing allowed by Reclaim for uploading.6 Grant dollars had paid for
higher resolution scans of the films, and we were committed to offering the best quality access copies. Thus,
we chose to stream files from Vimeo at the Mukurtu support team’s suggestion. Vimeo has multiple safe-
guards in place that allow the user to hide videos from searches within their website and from the internet.
The community still controls the protocols and community standards for the video on the Tribesourcing site
itself, and we are able to deliver a high-quality viewing copy of the film.
As a film preservation project, we also acknowledge a critical warning from Gerry Lawson, member of the
Heiltsuk First Nation and technology lead for the University of British Columbia’s Indigitization program:
“‘precious fragments’ of indigenous knowledge are increasingly held captive in obsolete audio-visual media
formats” (Lawson 2017). Issues of data migration and storage are integral to the Tribesourcing project as well.
Digitized originals and access copies are distributed geographically on hard drives, in the cloud on Dropbox,
and on Vimeo, in keeping with archival best practices LOCKSS (Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe).7 The original
films on reels collected by Fred MacDonald are housed at the Library of Congress and are believed to be in
the public domain.
The Tribesourcing Southwest Film project offers pedagogical applications as well. They include media lit-
eracy lesson plans for college students, which were researched and developed by Rhiannon Sorrell, as well as
plans for K–12 students written by Amy Fatzinger, Associate Professor at UA. In terms of language revitaliza-
tion, the audio components certainly enliven spoken language for the listener. Moreover, Mukurtu’s diction-
ary and hyperlinked keywords also bring in Native languages textually, and the platform even keeps intact
diacritical marks used in, for instance, the Diné Bizaad alphabet. The hyperlinked subject and personal name
keywords found throughout the site help to quickly collocate related films and to highlight common themes
for a visitor to the site. The standalone dictionary contains some of these same keywords and adds yet more
terms drawn from a variety of trusted sources that are, in keeping with the Protocols, vetted by the language
The 2020–2021 Covid-19 global pandemic has disrupted countless cultural and language reclamation
projects worldwide. More importantly, it has been particularly devastating to our Native partners’
communities. In light of the devastation, community outreach and recordings were put on hold. Prior to
the pandemic, however, our Native partners contributed nineteen counter-narrations. Obviously Indigenous
Knowledges are as multiple, distinct, and complex as the cultures whose ontologies they convey. With this
film repurposing project, we seek to decolonize a collection of twentieth-century audiovisual materials
and thereby assert image, voice, and content sovereignty—an intentional act of Indigenous Knowledge
reclamation and assertion. We hope it will serve as a model for Native and First Nations archives to restore
and repurpose moving image records in their collections.
The Arizona Board of Regents on behalf of the University of Arizona. 2021. “American Indian Film Gallery.”
http://www.aifg.arizona.edu. Archived at: https://perma.cc/ZQ6A-QC5C.
First Archivists Circle. 2006. Protocols for Native American Archival Materials. http://www2.nau.edu/
libnap-p/. Archived at: https://perma.cc/2TTV-VF7C.
6 It should be noted that Reclaim Hosting will adjust these kinds of specifications for entities that want to pay for private hosting on
their servers. Fortunately, Reclaim integrates rather well with Mukurtu otherwise, including an option to automatically update the
software upon new release. While creating this workaround was unexpected, both Mukurtu’s and Reclaim Hosting’s support teams
worked diligently to help us utilize the platform as we originally intended.
7 Originals are almost entirely 16 mm films entrusted to the Library of Congress. We refer readers to the Library’s best practices for care
of motion picture film: “Care, Handling, and Storage of Motion Picture Film” (Library of Congress n.d.). Our digital copies are in an open
standard MEG-4 file format. The Library of Congress “Recommended Formats Statement” (n.d.) lists MPEG-4 as an acceptable viewing
proxy format for Video - File-Based and Physical Media.
Dollman et al.: Tribesourcing Southwest Films: Counter-Narrations and Reclamation Art. XX, page 7 of 7
Kovach, Margaret. 2010. Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations, and Contexts. Toronto, ON:
University of Toronto Press.
Lawson, Gerry. 2017. “Indigitization: It Takes a Community.” Presentation, Museum of Modern Art,
New York, NY. http://www.digitalassetsymposium.com/2017/06/26/indigitization-it-takes-a- community/.
Archived at: https://perma.cc/39AF-MPRJ.
Library of Congress. n.d. “Care, Handling, and Storage of Motion Picture Film.” https://www.loc.gov/
preservation/care/film.html. Archived at: https://perma.cc/F3PK-CYA4.
Library of Congress. n.d. “Recommended Formats Statement.” https://www.loc.gov/preservation/resources/
rfs/moving.html. Archived at: https://perma.cc/C6J9-HQMS.
Local Contexts. n.d. “TK Labels.” https://localcontexts.org/labels/traditional-knowledge-labels/. Archived
Posner, Miriam. 2016. “How Is a Digital Project Like a Film?” In The Arclight Guidebook to Media History and
the Digital Humanities, edited by Charles R. Acland and Eric Hoyt, 184–94. Falmer: REFRAME.
Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 2012. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous People. 2nd ed. London:
Tribesourcing Southwest Film Project. 2021. http://tribesourcingfilm.com. Archived at: https://perma.
How to cite this article: Dollman, Melissa et al. 2021. Tribesourcing Southwest Films: Counter-Narrations
KULA: Knowledge Creation, Dissemination, and Preservation Studies
5(1): XX. DOI: https://doi.
Submitted: 16 June 2020 Accepted: 03 February 2021 Published: 22 June 2021
Copyright: @ 2021 The Author(s). This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use,
distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://
KULA: Knowledge Creation, Dissemination, and Preservation Studies
a peer-reviewed open access journal published by University of Victoria Libraries.