In our program the necessity for access and intellectual freedom and the role that technology has played in promoting this has been discussed many times over. I wanted to look at a view of this increasing role in technology from another point of view, one that does not correlate with that idea that access is particularly good. In 1990 the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was passed. NAGPRA came about to put an end to the collection of Native American artifacts and remains and return those that a particular tribe wished to be returned. This caused quite a stir in the museum community, which was forced to relinquish collections that may have been in existence for one hundred years.
The notions present in the ALA and SAA about the rights to access are completely moot when considering objects that fall under NAGPRA. Sometimes objects are not returned but are placed in trust with a museum or archive by the tribe. In many cases no one but the tribe members and maybe a representative of the institution is allowed to view objects. For example, in DU’s anthropology department there are two “NAGPRA rooms” that remain locked and inaccessible. Sometimes digital documentation of these objects is not an option. If the tribe’s wishes are that things not be digitally documented, they cannot be.
Though digitization of objects for study and access has become very important, it is also important to consider that not everything is available to this technology. Some objects and collections must remain only in tangible forms. I find it a sobering thought to think that not all information about there is possibly accessible. What technology has done in circumstances like NAGPRA is not to provide infinite access, but has allowed the community to share this knowledge. Native Americans are able to express their views in the same electronic forums and universal multimedia as everyone else, which has helped in a greater understanding of why something like NAGPRA is so important.