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This article focuses on an urban Native American oral history project the Grand Rapids Public Library carried out in Michigan between 1974 and 1978. Although the project itself lasted just four years, it cast a long shadow on West Michigan's Native Americans and the city's public library and public museum, and it shaped the lifework of several key individuals who went on to hold positions in federal agencies. Drawing heavily on information gleaned from preserved project records, this case study aims to deepen our understanding of community engagement and ethics and why community-based efforts launched with the best of intentions often fail. It also suggests considerations of sustaining value for kindred oral history efforts today, including not only the imperative of intercultural understanding but also the abiding need for researchers to think critically and intentionally about our own subjectivities, to demonstrate willingness not just to accept but to embrace conflict and to recognize our institutional obligations and the limits on our own decision-making powers.