Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Waziyatawin’s Remember This! Dakota Decolonization and the Eli Taylor Narratives

Remember This! Dakota Decolonization and the Eli Taylor Narratives provides an inspirational and illuminating example of how to conduct research in a good way. And while I am still learning the jargon of university research methodology, Waz' book provides excellent examples of research where she is clearly situated in an Indigenous community, unambiguous about her intentions, understanding of her unique role as researcher, listener and learner, and accountable through kinship ties. All of these are vitally important when conducting research, or perhaps more appropriately, learning and living Indigenous ways of being. I like how Waz states in the Introduction, “When other colonized peoples give voice to experiences we have struggled to articulate, we rejoice. When we see ourselves in words of their creation, we are affirmed. When we hear stories of resistance, we are inspired.” This summarizes the effect the book had on me. Of particular interest to my work is how Waz maintains a focus on the importance of decolonization. Too often I feel, leaders and scholars, in attempts not to appear “negative” or “unproductive” ignore the realities of colonization, and instead take up the Colonizers rhetoric of moving beyond history and assert the primacy of progress. I believe that we cannot truly move forward in a good way unless we have an honest assessment of where we are and how we got here.

Regarding how colonization is the deprivation of experience, Waz points out how, “not only…personal experiences affect a person’s life, but also how missed experiences equally affect them.” This is clearly illustrated by the fact that Unkanna is unable to participate in the inipi or wiwanyak wacipi ceremonies (my apologies, my computer does not have the correct phonetic symbols to type these properly). This raises a very interesting point about the oral tradition in Indigenous societies. While we value the stories of direct personal experience, we also value the stories and teachings that have been passed on and embodied for generations. I believe this is what Waz is getting at in describing the oral tradition as something that is living and ongoing as an individual and communal responsibility.

Two other elements that I appreciated are the scope of stories from indefinite (but not problematic) historical times to more contemporary times and the fact that Waz did not shy away engaging in potentially controversial themes – such as Eurocentric views on Indigenous gender relations. Both of these elements confront colonial assumptions about indigeneity that are pervasive and harmful. By sharing stories that are contemporary, we remind our kin that Indigenous ways of knowing and being are entirely relevant to our lives today and we dispel the colonial myths that true Indigenousness is a relic of the past. And in bringing greater complexity to the issue of gender relations, we are able to move beyond both Eurocentric patriarchy and liberal feminism that are both problematic for Indigenous peoples. Finally, I also liked the inclusion of spiritual and “supernatural” stories that support a deeper appreciation of Indigenous realities.

As all of this relates to research in general and the community research I intend to engage in specifically, Waz provides some helpful lessons on how I can go about it. The narratives that she recorded and analysis she provides hits home in a much more profound way than any of the academic renditions of research methodologies have been able to provide. In a Nuu-chah-nulth context, many of these lessons resonate with me. The coastal communities of the Nuu-chah-nulth nation have been rather uniquely situated vis-à-vis colonization. While their relative seclusion has enabled them to retain many of their traditions – including vibrant oral traditions and ceremonial life, they have also experienced what seems like an accelerated or intensified form of neocolonialism. This is not meant to ask, “Who had is worse?” but to recognize the similar and unique elements of the colonial experience amongst varied Indigenous peoples. For the Nuu-chah-nulth, this experience can see the loss of languages and histories within a very short time frame, thus compelling community members to work assertively to ensure that our languages and histories are not only preserved, but also perpetuated. As I seek to learn about Nuu-chah-nulth ways of living in the course of my research, as a Nuu-chah-nulth person, it is my responsibility to live a Nuu-chah-nulth life. Along with the responsibility for keeping our ways of life alive, colonization has also added the necessity that we critically engage our traditions for the purpose of adapting them to our contemporary contexts. This is a daunting task indeed, and at times, I am admittedly discouraged. I thank Waz for sharing her words and those of her grandfather. I hope that over the course of my work, I can reciprocate with some of the lessons and experiences of my communities that I hope will be equally inspirational.


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