Eric Milenkiewicz of UCR Library pictured with Lorene Sisquoc of the Sherman Indian Museum
January 20, 2017

On January 4, 2017, the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) announced that the UCR Library and the Sherman Indian Museum would receive a $376,191 Digitizing Hidden Collections grant, generously funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, for a collaborative project to digitize the museum’s collection.

“Their collection houses thousands of one-of-a-kind documents about the history, education, and culture of The Sherman Institute from 1901 to 1970, and Sherman Indian High School from 1970 to the present day,” explained Dr. Clifford E. Trafzer, UC Riverside’s Distinguished Professor of History and Rupert Costo Chair in American Indian Affairs. “The collections also have all the records of Perris Indian School from 1892 to 1904, when the Bureau of Indian Affairs transferred students to The Sherman Institute, the first off-reservation American Indian boarding school in southern California. These are valuable treasures that cannot be replaced. Documents and photographs represent many aspects of student life at Sherman and focus on the people, curriculum, sports, music, dance, and vocational education.”

“These records hold the history for so many people: Native American people who came to school here, people who have worked here, and their families,” said Lorene Sisquoc, Director of the Sherman Indian Museum. “We get many different research requests, not just from alumni. It’s been quite in-demand for the past 25 years, and the demand has gotten bigger and bigger to access these archives that are well over 100 years old. It was crucial that we got this done somehow.”

The Sherman Indian Museum collection is an invaluable resource documenting the Native American experience in the United States. The collection supports research in a range of disciplines and on a variety of topics including Native American education, the US government’s cultural assimilation efforts of Native Americans, and the history of American Indian off-reservation boarding schools.

“There are only a handful of American Indian boarding school collections out there, and the only other one that has been digitized is in Pennsylvania,” explained Eric Milenkiewicz, Manuscripts Curator and co-principal investigator on the grant. “So this project will provide the public with a glimpse into the boarding school experience from a California, west coast perspective.” Given the granting agency’s guidelines, the Sherman Indian Museum could not apply for the grant on their own; they also didn’t have the resources needed to digitize their collection. That was all the incentive that UCR Library needed to complete the grant application last April.

“Serving this type of community need is exactly why the Inland Empire Memories initiative exists,” Eric explained. Founded in 2013, the mission of Inland Empire Memories is to identify, preserve, interpret, and share the rich cultural legacies of the Inland Empire’s diverse communities. “It’s really about safeguarding these materials, this community treasure for future generations. This is part of Riverside’s history, which UCR is also a part of, and we want to make sure that the collection is preserved and accessible to the community.” The digital collection will be made available through Calisphere, thanks to CLIR and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, allowing worldwide online access to this rich resource.

As part of this grant, UCR Library will help build infrastructure for future digitization efforts at the Sherman Indian Museum. The grant will also procure scanning equipment for the Museum, and students from the Sherman Indian High School will receive training so that they can participate in digitization.  “This is something that’s been needed for a long time,” said Lorene, “and we’re very fortunate to get this.”

“One of our project’s primary goals is to embed these technical skills in the community that will be carrying this digitization work forward,” Eric explained. “We believe that the skills learned by the students over the course of this project will positively impact the museum and community, promoting a greater understanding of digital initiatives work. And we hope that this grant project will inspire further community support from other interested organizations or individuals who will want to step in, to carry this torch into the future,” Eric added.

Benefits of digitizing the Sherman Museum’s collection are many, but three come to the forefront. As Lorene explains, “It’s going to benefit people all over to be able to access these, and also to protect them so we won’t be using originals as research access.” According to Dr. Trafzer, “Scholars will produce many books and articles from the rich documents found in the collections,” he explained. “Equally important, former Native American students of Sherman and their families will have easy access to documents and photographs, school newspapers and annuals. Native American people and families will be able to learn more about the lives of their loved ones. This will provide contemporary American Indians and scholars with images and voices of past generations of students, faculty, and staff at Sherman.”

“It’s not just great news for UCR’s own graduate students,” Associate University Librarian for Collections & Scholarly Communication, Alison Scott concurred. “This will be great for the world.”