Setting the record straight


Jennifer O'Neil lectures on factual inaccuracies present in recorded histories of Pacific Northwestern Native American tribes.

From staff reports

Many aspects of Native American history were written without context or knowledge of tribes’ cultures.

Jennifer O’ Neil gave a presentation on her work to correct historical inaccuracies regarding Pacific Northwestern tribes and with Oregon’s Paiute Native American tribes, Friday.

O’ Neil, a historian and archivist at the University of Oregon Libraries, spoke on issues affecting Native American culture and how to ‘decolonize’ previous research.

Most history written on Native Americans was written years ago by European settlers and researchers unfamiliar with a tribe’s culture, O’Neil said.

These writings were inaccurate because early historians did not realize or did not understand what they were studying. This issue is compounded as most research available today is based off of that faulty research, she said.

“We want to be able to give new life and new purpose to these records as the records that were once confined into local agencies and governments and making it easier for tribal communities to access these records,” O’ Neil said

O’ Neil works on her research with UO’s Honors College and the Paiute tribe in Warm Springs and Burns, Oregon.

The basis of O’ Neil’s research is a two-sided issue; to work with Native American tribes to return historical articles, artifacts, and other source material to give them control over their history and ensure its accuracy, and to digitize the information onto online servers that can be readily accessed.

Every semester, students in her honors course at UO choose a research project based on questions previously created by past classes. Once students choose a topic, it is sent to tribal leaders to ensure that the topic is still relevant or important to the tribe.

To provide a hands-on approach for the students, O’ Neil takes them on a field trip to the Warm Springs reservation, where they have the opportunity to interview tribal leaders and get answers to every question they have.

“What’s most important is that they’re changed as a scholar, as a researcher, that they see a different way of doing research and that even if they’re not a history major they can apply this methodology to whatever they’re studying.” O’ Neil said.

The hope is that the research can provide a way for younger generations to learn about the history and culture that they have never learned about.

“I grew up off the reservation so I didn’t get that cultural aspect and this is where I really got an insight on my culture was by reading about it,” said Celilo Miles, an NRDA tech and member of the Nez Perce Tribe.

Reporting by Ethen Ashcraft