Mali Obomsawin, Dartmouth Class of 2018, emerging jazz musician, and member of the Abenaki at Odanak, visited campus for a week-long research residency at The Hood Museum of Art and Rauner Special Collections Library titled Arts + Archives. Members of the Advancing Pathways team originally met Mali during her performance at the Hopkins Center in February 2022 of Welcome to Indian Country, where she incorporated Abenaki language recordings in the set full of narratives and live instrumentation. Welcome to Indian Country aimed to encapsulate the joy the Indigenous performers feel for being part of the Native community, and share their stories with the world through poetry, storytelling, and song.
The team then began corresponding with Mali about planning the research residency the following summer, where the focus would be collaboration, connection, language, and historical accountability. Later in November 2022, Mali invited us to attend her concert at the Loading Dock in Littleton, NH where we had an amazing evening making friends and absorbing the performance of pieces from her new album, Sweet Tooth. The album showcases how the Wabanaki people’s art and culture have been sustained through centuries of ingenuity and resistance. It is a collection of Wabanaki tales and melodies handed down through Obomsawin’s family, and includes tracks that deal with contemporary Indigenous life, colonization, endurance, love, and anger. The record is deeply personal, featuring field recordings of family members at Odanak First Nation, and a comprehensive portrayal of the Wabanaki people’s story, which spans their confederacy’s territory from Eastern Canada to Southern New England. Mali has been listening to some of those same reel-to-reel recordings with her ancestors, versions of which live in the Gordon Day Collection housed at Rauner.
Throughout the week of her research residency at Dartmouth at the end of January 2023, Mali engaged with connected collections of Abenaki basketry, photographs, and cultural records rooted in the Gordon Day Collection both at the Library and Hood Museum. Gordon Day was a 20th century anthropologist employed by Dartmouth in the 1960’s and 1970’s to research members of Obomsawin’s community. Some of the earliest Indigenous students at Dartmouth were recruited from Mali’s community at Odanak in the late 18th century, and her visit to campus brought Native voices into dialogues about how museums and libraries collections are able to improve relationships and collaborate with Indigenous communities. Mali also visited Jami Powell’s Native American and Indigenous Studies course in tandem with visual artist Coyote Park to discuss how their artistic practices are influenced by not just gender and sexuality, but how they walk the world as Native people. At the end of the week, Mali hosted workshops for students and staff at the Hanover Inn, sharing insights about her experience engaging with Dartmouth’s collections. Mali also argued that Dartmouth’s past entanglements with Odanak – employing anthropologists focused on that community and the early early recruitment of Odanak community members for schooling – mean that Dartmouth now has an obligation to work on its relationship with Odanak through continued collaboration, archival repair, and research transparency.
Some of our next steps include reviewing Mali’s report and feedback that she will provide us now that the residency has been completed, and outlining future artist residency opportunities to work with our Indigenous collections at the Hood and Library.