This fall, Sage Loyema Innerarity, a citizen of the Ione Band of Miwok Indians of California, began graduate studies at the Simmons School of Library and Information Science. Working in cooperation with Indigenous individuals, she builds and preserves tribal archives. Innerarity spoke with us about the importance of community, Native literature, and remembrance.
“Colonial archives tend to misrepresent or not represent Native communities. By contrast, I am interested in compiling archives made by and for Indigenous peoples,” says Sage Loyema Innerarity (Ione Band of Miwok Indians), a first-year student in the Master of Library and Information Science program, specifically the Cultural Heritage Informatics concentration, at Simmons’ School of Library and Information Science.
Innerarity decided to pursue library science after interning for a year as the Post Baccalaureate Fellow in the Native American Literature Collection in the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College, her alma mater. As she recollects, this experience was formative: “I had never really engaged in archival spaces before. Previously, I felt that [as an Indigenous individual] I did not belong in these kinds of spaces, but I felt very welcome there, and I learned so much about tribal histories and collections.”
Innerarity recently received a $10,000 Rodney T. Matthews, Jr. Scholarship. Issued by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and named after the late attorney and judge Rodney T. Matthews, Jr. (Morongo), this scholarship supports Indigenous Californians who wish to continue their education. “When I was applying to graduate school, I was very nervous about how expensive it can be,” says Innerarity. “Therefore, I was beyond excited to receive this scholarship, which gives me a sense of security and strength.”
Innerarity’s Indigenous identity and close-knit ties to her community are central to her academic studies. “My community stays at the center of what I do, and I went to library school to support our heritage and legacy,” she says.
Since 2019, Innerarity has worked for the Miwok Heritage Center (Ione, California) under the guidance of Glen Villa Jr. In this role (which she continues to perform remotely), Innerarity celebrates and preserves the history and culture of her people. She conducts oral histories with community members and collects and preserves a variety of other sources, including newspaper articles, books, ethnographies, video footage, and song recordings. The Heritage Center also offers Miwok language classes. “My great-grandmother was fluent in Miwok, so I grew up hearing it. Now, learning it more formally together as a community is very gratifying.”
When discussing the collection she helps build, Innerarity invokes the term “community archive.” As she explains, “the archives I was looking for are not in formalized collections, but rather within my community. I realized that I needed to help create a community archive, and make it accessible to members of the Miwok community. . . I also spoke with Indigenous individuals on the east coast, and they told me that we really need more Native people doing this kind of work.”
Working with tribal and community archives presents more challenges than more conventional collections. “We are dealing with materials that are very community-specific,” explains Innerarity. “As such, there are different ethical and cultural considerations. Likewise, the Heritage Center has a strong commitment to consent. In other words, we are very cognizant that the interviewee must be aware of the archival process and have a say in it.”
Another challenge is the availability of funding for preservation work, as tribal archives are often underfunded. However, Innerarity remains undeterred. “I want to make sure that my children, my grandchildren, and members of my community have the opportunity to learn from our people and to embrace their legacy.”
On the subject of sources, Innerarity offers an important corrective. Traditional scholarship often labels Native cultures as “oral,” “performative,” or “embodied,” whereas Western and Christocentric cultures are considered more text-based. “Even though orality and performance are very important to many tribal communities, Native folks have been involved in writing and printing as long as those communicative technologies have existed here,” asserts Innerarity. For example, The Cherokee Phoenix, the first Native newspaper, began in 1828, and it was printed and typeset in Cherokee. Innerarity herself has researched Native writers, particularly Samson Occom (1723–1792), a Mohegan minister who authored diverse writings, including sermons, hymns, and journals.
“The oral vs. written binary is often imposed rather than reflective of an actual, lived reality,” emphasizes Innerarity. “Written words are often given more weight than oral traditions, which, I believe, is a lasting mark of white supremacy. These kinds of assumptions often devalue Indigenous knowledge, even though native sources are written and oral. Creating these binaries is, therefore, a form of erasure that serves to silence Indigenous cultures and histories. To the contrary, my archival work has shown me that Native literature has a vast, well-documented history.”
In Innerarity’s view, working in the archives is not an apolitical act. Rather, preservation practices can be decolonizing. “I believe that my job is to Indigenize spaces, and, in doing so, I represent and give voice to my tribal community. There are many ways to interpret and enact de-colonization, but it always involves uprooting settler colonialism and white supremacy,” she says. Moreover, Innerarity acknowledges the lingering traces of exclusion within the discipline of library and information science. “I have had to teach myself to take up space. Being in a predominantly white field, I see we need to have more Native folks here to tell our stories. . . I am a storyteller, I am engaged in my community, and I find ways to foreground my identity as an Indigenous woman to amplify the presence of my community and other underrepresented communities.”
Although still a student in the field of library and information science, Innerarity offers words of advice to other aspiring librarians and archivists: “It is essential — especially for BIPOC students — to find, create, and build community for yourself. That is what is getting me through it all. I have amazing mentors from different tribal communities and at Simmons. This semester, I have learned so much in the ‘Introduction to Archival Theory and Practice’ course with Assistant Professor Sumayya Ahmed and I am also forming community with my Simmons classmates. Being part of a larger community helps you grow professionally and personally.”
With Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage Day soon approaching, Innerarity calls on the Simmons community to learn and acknowledge. “You can never stop learning. . . Thanksgiving is a day of mourning for Wampanoag peoples, so consider going to their public events if you are in the area and stand in solidarity with Native folks.”
For example, Innerarity recommends attending the (hybrid) 54th Annual National Day of Mourning event at Cole’s Hill (above Plymouth Rock), which is held at noon on Thanksgiving Day. Moreover, the Boston Public Library is hosting numerous events in November to celebrate Wampanoag cooking methods and panels on histories of Indigenous enslavement and colonization with local tribe members.
Libraries have a key role to play in supporting the Indigenous community. “Library and archives personnel can do more to support Native peoples,” says Innerarity. “For instance, educate your community about what land you are on, and learn the histories of the people who occupied it before you. Make sure your institution recognizes local tribes and forms relationships with them, and make sure students know that tribal archives exist.”
- United American Indians of New England (UAINE)
- MA Indigenous Legislative Agenda
- “Stolen Relations: Centuries of Native Enslavement in the Americas,” at Boston Public Library (Copley Square)
- “Wampanoag Food-ways are Fun-ways,” at Boston Public Library (Roxbury)
- “Special Collections Sampler: National Native American Heritage Month” at Boston Public Library (Copley Square)