The Library has been contributing to a community-centered database project led by Professor Linford Fisher that seeks to document the many instances of Indigenous enslavement in the Americas between 1492 through 1900. Formerly entitled, Database of Indigenous Slavery Archive (DISA), the project is now named, Stolen Relations: Recovering Stories of Indigenous Enslavement in the Americas.
Since the summer of 2019, with guidance from Professor Rae Gould and Lydia Curliss, Physical Sciences Librarian and member of the Nipmuc Nation, the team has been working with Native partners from twelve different tribal nations in the southern New England area. Together, the collaborators decided to change the project name to one that reflects the efforts and goals to decolonize the project and become more community and Indigenous centered.
Rather than simply make accessible the records of Indigenous people who were enslaved, the project is designed to offer a decolonizing framework that explores the 21st century impact of enslavement that has ruptured the relations of Indigenous people, families, and nations. In short, stolen relations. The project recovers the stories of Indigenous enslavement in order to bring to light the stories and to contextualize them within the larger context of settler colonialism.
Because the team is largely collecting archival documents about indigenous enslavement that are written by the colonizer, it is essential to indigenize the presentation of the database so that there is a decolonizing context around the language from archival documents. For example, rather than simply list “tribe” affiliations, as is sometimes listed on the original document, the database will provide information on how archival documents often include terms that diminish the nationhood and sovereignty of Indigenous peoples (such as the word “tribe”). And in many cases, the tribal/national affiliation of enslaved Natives was completely erased. The project intends to reassert the nation-to-nation relationship that tribes have, and center that context alongside the data.
In this early phase of the project, the database is not yet public — though the project website is public. The team is working with tribal partners and a group of researchers to identify, enter, and interpret relevant historical and oral historical materials, and is currently looking to partner with individuals and institutions who are willing to send materials they have or join the research team to input materials directly. Please visit the project’s Contribute page or contact Linford D. Fisher to learn more.
Stolen Relations has been generously funded and supported by the following entities:
- Center for Digital Scholarship, Brown University Library
- Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, Brown University
- Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative, Brown University
- Office of the Vice President for Research, Brown University
- Population Studies and Training Center, Brown University
- Social Sciences Research Institute, Brown University
Library staff members working on the Stolen Relations project:
- Ashley Champagne, Digital Humanities Librarian, Center for Digital Scholarship, Brown University (Project Manager)
- Lydia Curliss, Physical Sciences Librarian, Academic Engagement, Brown University Library (Nipmuc)
- Birkin Diana, Digital Technologies Developer, Brown University Library
- Patrick Rashleigh, Data Visualization Coordinator, Center for Digital Scholarship, Brown University
- Ben Tyler, Publications and Design Specialist