While sorting indigenous-language materials as a graduate research assistant at Tozzer Library, Sadada Jackson came across a 1903 English-Ojibway dictionary printed by Canadian missionaries, an 1832 spelling book in the Seneca language with English definitions, and an 1857 journal handwritten in Cherokee.
Jackson, who earned a master’s of theological studies at the Harvard Divinity School this past May, was so struck by her findings that when officials at the library, which houses anthropology and archaeology collections, asked her to do a public exhibit based on her work, she accepted with enthusiasm.
“It was an opportunity to give back and leave an offering for inspiration; a way to honor the past and take heed of the future,” said Jackson, who dedicated the exhibit to the speakers of indigenous languages and to “all who are listening.”
Curated by Jackson, “Our Land Our Language: Reflecting on North American Indigenous Language Materials” will be on display at the front entrance of Tozzer until June. It includes two maps of the U.S. and Canada with the precise areas where indigenous languages were spoken in 1903 and 1915 highlighted and overlay indigenous-language texts. The maps were created by J.W. Powell, who was head of the Bureau of Ethnology from 1879 until 1902.
For Jackson, an African American and a member of the Natick Nipmuc tribe, the exhibit gave her the chance to curate a display intended to help visitors deepen their understanding of native cultures. She also aimed to give people of indigenous descent a place to find a piece of their history.
“I wanted to create a space for people who are indigenous, whether they speak or not their indigenous languages, where not only they can be themselves, but also inquire about themselves,” said Jackson. “It’s important for all marginalized people, especially black and native people, who often were not seen or were gazed upon, to have a space where they can see themselves reflected.”