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Native American Heritage Month News: AFC’s Judith Gray is an “Honored One”

Judith Gray received the prestigious 2016 Honored One Award from the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums (ATALM), at its annual conference in October. In Judith’s own words, the honor represents one of the most ”deeply significant moments” in her career, which is saying a lot, given the impressive range of her accomplishments to date. Detailing them all would be a daunting task, if not an impossible one, but even the few listed next testify to the length and breadth of her achievements.

Judith Gray, AFC staff member, on stage at ATALM awards ceremony, October 2016

Judith Gray, AFC staff member, on stage at ATALM awards ceremony, October 2016

For starters, one could begin with her official LC position, which is Head of Reference Services at AFC, and note her thirty-plus years of service in the AFC Archive, beginning in 1983. I should particularly mention her work on repatriation initiatives for Native American collections, such as the Federal Cylinder Project.

Then one would want to note her academic career as a Wesleyan University trained ethnomusicologist and her long-term participation and leadership in national and international professional societies (SEM, IASA). And, of course, it would not do to overlook her deep and heartfelt passion for birding (dressing as a birder is her usual Halloween get-up at the Reference desk) and her obsession with the Green Bay Packers, which is understandable only as a manifestation of her Wisconsin roots. And, given that she owns stock in the team, it may be necessary to add “business tycoon” to the list!

Even with that deep and wide set of accomplishments, Judith’s most recent honor is well justified. ATALM is an international membership organization that collaborates with public-sector, university, and private institutions as well as individuals to provide training and develop educational and technical resources in the service of Native American and indigenous communities and cultural institutions. The recognition of Judith’s (and the division’s) many years of work to advance Native American sovereignty and self-determination were central to the award decision.

One such critical initiative was the Federal Cylinder Project (FCP) launched in the 1980’s. Through the FCP, the Center collected early wax cylinder field recordings from several national and international sources, and then disseminated cassette copies to specific Native communities as a means of assisting their linguistic and cultural revitalization efforts. As a Project team member, Judith both documented the recordings and disseminated them in the course of community site visits. She subsequently became one of the editors of Cylinder Project catalogs, and also published scholarly essays on FCP’s accomplishments and challenges.

Judith’s article on the topic appeared in Cultural Survival and can be accessed here. Moreover, readers might also wish to consult former AFC director Alan Jabbour’s retrospective assessment of the FCP and the Center’s approach to preserving and sustaining cultural heritage materials of Native people and other communities of origin. The essay, entitled “The American Folklife Center: A Twenty-Year Retrospective,” is available as a .pdf for download here; the relevant pages are from 5 to 8.

From the outset of her Library career, Judith collaborated with colleagues in the federal sector (National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution) on Native American initiatives such as the needs assessment for the “Keepers of the Treasures” program; participated in field schools that provided training in cultural documentation and archiving for tribal people; and assisted in the development and launch of the Park Service’s Historic Preservation grants for indigenous groups. More recently, she has been the Library of Congress liaison for three national Breath of Life Archival Institutes for Indigenous Languages, and regularly presents at conference gatherings and workshops on the Library’s extensive resources in numerous gatherings, including multiple ATALM conferences. NOTE: To find out more about BOL, please attend the November 17, 2016, public presentation at the Library by Gabriela Perez-Baez, one of the institute’s co-directors; info is at this link.

The Center staff along with friends and colleagues everywhere join ATALM in acknowledging Judith Gray’s exemplary career. As is only fitting, the final words on this honor come from Judith’s acceptance speech (paraphrased here) at the ATALM conference:

[As] a reference person, my task is to connect people with the information they’re seeking, and thanks to the many collaborations with knowledgeable people, we’re generally able to provide the who/when/where and sometimes the “what” for the collections we curate. But the one thing I/we cannot do is to provide the meaning of the collections, for the meaning comes from and rests in the communities of origin. Thus, I thank you all for this honor, but even more, I thank you- community members – for all the work you do.