Mapping Our Past at Library of Congress

Feb 15th, 2003 | By | Category: 14-3: Your Heroes Are Not Our Heroes, Tribal College News
By Holly Ristau

Studying maps at the Library of Congress, Holly Ristau learned the history of the reservation.

Gregory Chester and I spent three weeks in Washington, DC, last summer at the Library of Congress as interns helping to build a database to serve tribal colleges and communities. We direct libraries at tribal colleges in northern Minnesota; Chester at Leech Lake Tribal College, and I am at White Earth Tribal and Community College.

Our internship was inspired by our trip to Washington the year before to attend the annual Tribal College Librarian’s Institute. The institute (normally held in Montana) provides the opportunity for us to learn more about the resources available to librarians and inspires ideas to better serve our patrons. When our group visited the Library of Congress in 2001, we discovered that thousands of uncataloged maps lie dormant within the vaults. The Maps and Geography Division of the Library of Congress wanted to build a comprehensive database that would be valuable not just to tribal college patrons but to researchers of Native American history throughout the United States. Eventually, these maps could even be digitized, so the maps themselves would be available for reproduction on the Internet.

In 2002, Chester and I spent three weeks going over maps and inputting information for the database. We worked specifically on maps pertaining to Minnesota tribes. We found maps with great historical and cultural value, such as Native American names that are no longer in use, changes in reservation boundaries, proposed changes that were not made, and promotions for the sales of Indian lands. Over the course of three weeks I learned so much about maps and Minnesota Indian history. It was interesting to see how reservation boundaries fluctuated, sometimes documented by treaties but most often not. The changes made to those reservations over the years were devastating.

During our last week, we looked at the most valuable maps which are kept in the vault; many are in manuscript form or hand-drawn. We added several to the database and photographed a few. The LOC Maps and Geography Section allowed us to have copies of 20 historical maps to take home. We also copied some regional maps and were allowed to take extra copies of maps and atlases for our libraries. Our congressman, the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, arranged to mail them back to the schools.

The final product for our part of this project is a list of nearly 400 maps dealing with Indian reservations in Minnesota entitled “Checklist of Cartographic Resources for the Study of Native Americans.” The Library of Congress wants to have tribal college librarians from all over the United States come and go through the same process for their states and their reservations.

Tribal college librarians who are interested in participating can contact Robert Morris at the Library of Congress <>, Gregory Chester at Leech Lake Tribal College <>, or me, Holly Ristau, at White Earth Tribal and Community College <>.

Holly Ristau is the librarian for the White Earth Tribal and Community College and Mahnomen Public Schools in Mahnomen, MN. She earned a master’s degree in library media.

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