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Engaged Humanities Partnerships Between Academia And Tribal Communities

These are my notes on the University of Oregon's conference on Engaged Humanities: Partnerships Between Academia and Tribal Communities. This is the 2019 Western Humanities Alliance 2019 conference of which I am now the President. It was organized by the Oregon Humanities Center in partnership with Native Studies.

As is always the case, my notes are written live and will therefore be full of typos, omissions, and misunderstandings. Please send me a note if you have corrections.

Friday, November 8th


Paul Peppis, Director, Oregon Humanities Center opened the conference. He recognized the confederated tribes and others of Oregon. He thanked the many groups that have supported the conference.

Kirby Brown continued the welcome. He talked about the importance of Respect, Consultation, and Stewardship. The conference thinks through public engagement around three thematic axes—Climate Change, Sovereignty, and Place.

We then had a lovely blessing, song and welcome words from elders. The president of the University then spoke. He commented on the importance of the humanities in developing empathy. Then there was an introduction for the 6th Annual Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples Lecture. The format is to have two speakers and student respondents in order to get more of a dialogue rather than a straight keynote.

Fawn Sharp (Quinault Indian Nation), Tribal President, and President-elect of the National Congress of American Indians

President Sharp started by talking about how we all have a responsibility to understand climate change. She talked about her journey understanding and then working to change things. When she found the politicians were unwilling to show leadership she went to the citizens with Washington Initiative 732 to levy a carbon tax which, alas, failed. She feels that indigenous groups need to be leaders in this era when the US is dropping out of the Paris accord. She is looking at how the first nations can enter into some of these agreements.

Clarita Lefthand-Begay (Navajo Nation), University of Washington professor, Information School: The planet is hitting record highs: What can we do about it as Indigenous Peoples?

Professor Lefthand-Begay started by talking about her journey. She began working in a lab and doing field work with botanists. She did a Ph.D. in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Science at the University of Washington. She talked about the problem of the dominance of Western epistemology. It is important for native students to see their epistemology reflected in their studies.

Her overall message is that we need to challange the status quo. The Federal Indian Policies were introduced to destroy indigenous peoples by erasing them in all sorts of ways. She then talked about Traditional Knowledge, Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Traditional Ecological Knowledge. There are many native knowledges. with similarities and differences. They are passed on in the stories. She talked about the sources of knowledge and knowledge transmitters. To heal our mother is to heal ourselves.

She talked about

  • Consult with tribes
  • Honor government to government relations with tribes
  • Build tribal parternships
  • Gain IRB approves and consent
  • Follow rigorous cultural methods
  • Data governance.

There was a great set of student respondents, but my battery had run out.

Panel on Decolonizing History and Restorying Place in the Public Humanities

Jennifer O'Neal introduced and facilitated the panel which brought three projects to talk about the challenges of including community participants in projects.

The Kalapuya Talking Stones was the first to talk. Elder Esther Stutzman talked first. She talked about how the project has been placing stones with Kalapuya words in a park and natural area. Then Marta Lu Clifford spoke about taking tours of the stones. Finally David Lewis talked about Restoring Indigenous Knowledge. His work now is on indigenous knowledge in historic maps. Indigenous knowledge was taken from them and renamed. Now we can restore indigenous names on the landscape (and on maps) much as the Gwich'in Place Names Atlas does. Indigenous peoples must lead the restoration of the world.

Next, the Northern Paiute History Project was discussed. Jennifer O'Neal spoke about how this project was ensuring that Paiute history is told. They also wanted this project was a long term collaboration. The Northern Paiute had their land taken away and they were displaced to much smaller communities. They wanted to make sure that it was the tribal elders who were at the centre of the project and not the academics. Kevin Hatfield talked about how important it is for the history of the Northern Paiute to be written by the people themselves. The academics are there to really just facilitate/support the elders. He talked about a philosophy of:

"We don't care what you know until we know what you care."

He talked about Eve Marie Garroutte on Radical Indigenism. He talked about the practices that they follow including creating annual reports to bring back to the tribal community and digitization practices. They showed the protocols developed for working with tribal communities and images from the years of this course and project.

Then we heard about UO/Karuk Partnerships in Cultural Revitalization and Indigenous Land/Resource Management. Ron Reed started by talking about traditional ecological knowledge. He talked about how the Karuk people have used fire over the years. Fire ecology has run into a roadblock because indigenous knowledge has been erased and there is historic trauma.

Then Kari Marie Norgaard of the U of O talked about the work they have done together. They are working on bridging indigenous and Western science. The Klamath River Dam will be removed in a year or so! They did the work so that when the dam was to be relicensed it was rejected as having changed the life of the community. They documented the social consequences of being denied access to traditional foods like salmon. Ron Reed would identify what was happening and then they would look up the academic research and combine the traditional and academic. This was one of the first times in a federal situation they were able to make the case that a dam changed diet (no fish) which then had downstream health consequences.

She talked about the idea of knowledge sovereignty. Such sovereignty involves control of the land.

Kishuana Goeman: Beyond the Grammar of Settler Landscapes and Apologies

Goeman is working with the UC system to do better by indigenous people. Where does one place oneself, not just geographically and in traditional relations. She has asked the UC system where it wants to be. To root oneself (placing oneself) is an anti-colonial tool. Too often settler society puts indigenous people in boxes.

She believes that introductions - the territorial acknowledgements - can extend the long room roof. Too often decolonization is not really about indigenous people. Decolonization should be about all parties coming to the table, even if it is uncomfortable. Moves to decolonization can often just be about land transfer. It should also be about epistemologies. Settler colonialism becomes the analytic for examining indigenous issues.

We need to have the blessing, but move beyond it. We need to examine embodied geographies and timelines. She has been asking about what it is to be a guest on Tongva land in California. She is now chair and tried to bring a territorial acknowledgement to her department. The acknowledgement had to go through legal conversations. The acknowledgement is not the be all and end all, but it still matters to the small remainder of Tongva.

She talked about the anxieties of settlers when they have to use Tongva words. She works to explain the words.

She talked about how the Tongva didn't want an acknowledgement that emphasized loss, but one that talks about the emerging. What she developed was how the Tongva wanted to be introduced. It isn't an apology that puts everything in the past.

She feels we need to return to examine settler colonialism and the colonial unknowing. The ideas of property, democracy and so on need to be interrogated as these ideas hide the dispossession of colonialism.

She ended by asking how the emerging can happen.

Saturday, November 9th

I didn't end up taking notes on Saturday as I had to present and needed to go through my slides. Some of the highlights included:

Promised Land

There was a screening of the moving and instructive documentary Promised Land by Vasant and Sarah Salcedo.

Promised Land is an award-winning social justice documentary that follows two tribes in the Pacific Northwest: the Duwamish and the Chinook, as they fight for the restoration of treaty rights they've long been denied. In following their story, the film examines a larger problem in the way that the government and society still looks at tribal sovereignty.

Jennifer O'Neal

O'Neal gave a great talk about the importance of decolonizing the archives and work she is doing towards that. You can see a paper by her on the subject titled "The Right to Know": Decolonizing Native American Archives.

Respectful Relations in Research in Canada

I gave a summary of some of the things happening in Canada since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission delivered their report in 2015. I ended by acknowledging the gifts and challenges that indigenous thought are bringing to the humanities, including:

  • The challenge to academic structures to give native studies the autonomy to develop their own authentic way of knowing and teaching
  • The challenge of Aboriginal Epistemologies to Western traditions of knowing, especially those taken to be foundational for all knowledge like those of science. This is particularly an issue as we try to face climate change.
  • The challenge of place to the cosmopolitan humanities. We think of international travel and collaboration as facets of excellence in the humanities. Our humanism is imperial and cosmopolitan. We haven't taken seriously the idea of knowledge being rooted in place.
  • Finally, the challenge to our (settler) right to stay here. What right have we to be here on what was/is indigenous land. The only right I can think of for where I reside and work is Treaty 6. Our continuing to be here calls us to understand the history of that treaty and the peoples here long before us.



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