For my leadership project I was in charge of doing archival research on the school house associated with the Confederation of Grand Ronde. For this project I went through the archives downloaded on a program called Laserfiche. I was able to find documents from 1863-1920 relating to different aspects of school life during the time period in which the agency school was in operation. I found documents on the people the school hired, stories written by people who attended and taught at the school, and official documents and communications between the US Secretary of Interior and the Grand Ronde BIA Superintendent.
Archival research is based upon people’s testimony and provides interesting information about practices we might not see in the archaeological record, like how the school ran and how it affected people’s’ experiences while attending the schoolhouse. I divided the letters into categories that provided a way for people to see the documents in a way that allows future researchers to answer questions about the school. I also categorized the documents into a section on stories people have about the school, materials found in and around the school, policies enacted by the school, and food.
Archival work is often the place that archaeologist start in order to come up with a project. To find a site archaeologists may look through maps and documents to discover its location and history. Archival work also provides a framework of what you may find in a site and provides context of an area. However, it does have its limitations. Only people who are literate can write, and often the only documents that are archived are ones that are deemed “important.” These documents are usually written by people in power who write about Native Americans in a negative light. So it is important to understand the context of the documents themselves, and to read them in light of the biases and prejudices of the documentary record. In doing archaeology alongside archival work, there is an added opportunity: you may be able to trace individuals’ and community traditions in a culturally restrictive atmosphere such as that of the schoolhouse setting.
I provided information on the food at the school based correspondence between the superintendent of the school and the US Secretary of Interior. Since we are excavating a privy we may be able to observe coprolites inside and compare the written documents with the archaeological record to answer research questions about the school. In one of the documents, a teacher mentions how she was having a problem with students skipping school to go berry picking and hunting game. It would be interesting to see if there is any evidence of berries or fauna remains inside the privy. Looking at the archaeological evidence along with archival records can help get a sense of how students helped keep traditions alive despite living in a culturally restrictive environment. Check out my blog post at https://wp.me/p61aD2-s8.
Lonner, A. C. “Department of the Interiors, Office of Indian Affairs.” Letter to The Superintendent, Grande Ronde School, Oregon. 7 May 1901. MS. Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Grand Ronde, OR. Finance 23825/1901 Reproduced at the National Archives-Pacific Alaska Region (Seattle)
United States. Office of Indian Affairs Annual report of the commissioner of Indian affairs, for the year 1863 G.P.O.,