What is Digital Return?

Inuvialuit Pitqusiit Inuuniarutait (Inuvialuit Living History) project has been designed to create access for Inuvialuit people and interested public wherever they live to the Smithsonian’s MacFarlane Collection. Photo credit: Smithsonian Institute

Indigenous groups across North America are increasingly seeking to repatriate and reclaim cultural knowledge and material collections that were gathered from their ancestors as part of earlier colonial endeavors. These collections are generally held in trust by third party institutions (e.g. government agencies, museums, universities), with their wholesale transfer back to source communities considered impractical or impossible due to logistical complications that jeopardize continued storage and preservation. The concept of digital repatriation, or ‘digital return,’ has emerged as a means of re-building relationships between these institutions and source communities through the transfer of knowledge in the form of digital data.