Indigenous cultural burns work within the rhythms of the environment, attracting marsupials and mammals which Aboriginal people could hunt.
“Cool burning replenishes the earth and enhances biodiversity – the ash fertilises and the potassium encourages flowering. It’s a complex cycle based on cultural, spiritual and scientific knowledge.”
Knowledge Questions: How do we construct knowledge about the past? How reliable are oral histories when learning about the past? To what extent do oral histories need to be independently corroborated in order to be believed?
The Underestimated Reliability of Oral Histories
As an archaeologist, if I have to dismiss the veracity of Native American oral traditions simply because they are not written down, then simple logic forces me to dismiss some of the accounts written in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which also began as oral tradition. To do anything else would be to maintain a racist double standard.
How science and First Nations oral tradition are converging
Science is finally catching up to oral traditions passed down through generations of First Nations cultures
While the convergence of science and oral history is important, Kimberley TallBear, associate professor at the University of Alberta’s Native Studies, says that it’s important that such investigations be a collaborative effort. She’s concerned that Western culture has always dominated that of First Nations and that it could do so again.
“I think it’s good, and I think it’s progress,” TallBear said. “But Western knowledge … [is] privileged over Indigenous knowledge.”
Ancient Sea Rise Tale Told Accurately for 10,000 Years
Aboriginal stories of lost islands match up with underwater finds in Australia
Without using written languages, Australian tribes passed memories of life before, and during, post-glacial shoreline inundations through hundreds of generations as high-fidelity oral history. Some tribes can still point to islands that no longer exist—and provide their original names.
“It’s quite gobsmacking to think that a story could be told for 10,000 years,” Nicholas Reid, a linguist at Australia’s University of New England specializing in Aboriginal Australian languages, said. “It’s almost unimaginable that people would transmit stories about things like islands that are currently underwater accurately across 400 generations.”
“A lot of common terms may seem ‘neutral’ but reinforce racism. A teacher’s textbook case.”
Wilderness? Permanent? More loaded terms
“Wilderness” is another problematic term. It implies a place that humans neither modify nor call home. So when we attempt to convey respect for Indigenous knowledge with sentences like “Indigenous people were highly skilled at navigating and surviving in the “wilderness,” we present an oxymoron. Were Indigenous peoples other than human? If it is wilderness, how can people inhabit it? Allowing this paradox to stand sustains questions that should long ago have been taken off life support, but that retain vibrancy in powerful arenas, not the least of which include our courts: Were these “organized societies” living in the wilderness? Did these people have “exclusive use and occupation” of the wilderness? The absurdity of these questions comes clear when we jettison “wilderness” for more appropriate language, something like “homeland” or better yet, the people’s own term, the hahuułni of the Nuu-chah-nulth, Haa Aani among the Tlingit, or Anishinaabe akiiing. Kimmerer tells us, “When we call a place by its name it is transformed from wilderness to homeland.”
A series of articles on the fire at the national museum in Brazil. Raises questions about the role of material culture in studying the past but also of the concept of “national memory.” Further, there were recordings of languages that are no longer spoken that were destroyed. Does the loss of a language represent a loss of knowledge? A knowledge system? Fascinating questions raised by this incident that speak to the volume of loss.
The losses are “incalculable to Brazil,” said Michel Temer, the country’s president, on Twitter. “Two hundred years of work, research and knowledge have been lost.”
Marina Silva, a candidate in Brazil’s upcoming elections, described the fire as “a lobotomy in Brazilian memory.”
BRAZIL’S MUSEUM FIRE PROVES CULTURAL MEMORY NEEDS A DIGITAL BACKUP
It didn’t have to be this way. All of these artifacts could have been systematically backed up over the years with photographs, scans, audio files. The failure to do so speaks to a vital truth about the limits of technology: Just because the means to do something exists technologically doesn’t mean it will be done. And it underscores that the academic community has not yet fully embraced the importance of archiving importance of archiving—not just in Brazil, but around the world.
Restoule claims that, for Indigenous people, “the senses can know more deeply and concretely than knowledge gained through reading and being told.” He asserts that “knowledge is sometimes revealed through dreams, visions and intuitions.” And he offers a Venn diagram with a circle for “Western science”—“limited to evidence and explanation within [the] physical world” and “skepticism,”—overlapping somewhat with a circle for “Indigenous knowledge,” which is described as “holistic,” involving a “metaphysical world linked to moral code” and “trust for inherited wisdom.”
“When our grandparents and parents were forced to go to residential schools and literally torn away from their families, that knowledge was lost,” he said, noting that he had spent hours badgering his elderly aunts to share their old recipes and secrets, including how to make oolichan grease, or fermented smoked fish fat, which he uses to flavor soups or sauces.
Ms. Nottaway considers cooking her best weapon against assimilation, and on a recent Thursday afternoon, she set out to hunt for deer, partridge and beaver in a snow-covered forest on the reservation.
The researchers also found that roughly 175 years ago, the population of Coast Tsimshian in the region declined by as much as 57 per cent. This coincides with colonization and the spread of diseases such as smallpox, the accounts of which have also been passed down in First Nations oral tradition.
“Science is starting to be used to basically corroborate what we’ve been saying all along,” said Barbara Petzelt, an archaeologist with the Metlakatla First Nation, one of the researchers in the study.
“Amadeo said it haltingly, in broken Spanish, the only way he would be able to communicate with the world from that moment on. No one else spoke his language anymore. The survival of his culture had suddenly come down to a sole, complicated man.”
“The waters of the Peruvian Amazon were once a vast linguistic repository, a place where every turn of the river could yield another dialect, often completely unintelligible to people living just a few miles away. But in the last century, at least 37 languages have disappeared in Peru alone, lost in the steady clash and churn of national expansion, migration, urbanization and the pursuit of natural resources. Forty-seven languages remain here in Peru, scholars estimate, and nearly half are at risk of disappearing.”
Really interesting article that gets into the importance of history and why we fight over it. In addition, how do we acquire knowledge of the past? In doing this project, the lead historian has to distinguish between the massacres based on the strength of evidence to support their happening. What is also interesting is what kind of evidence was used. Should indigenous oral histories be counted on? Or only traditionally western accounts such as newspapers? This argument plays out in the United States as well.
Lastly, rather than writing a book, the research was presented on a map. Why does the impact of this information feel different when presented visually rather than verbally? What does this tell us about the power of art when learning about history?
“In many Indigenous communities, art works have long had dual functions as historical sources, as repositories of cultural or spiritual knowledge, and as maps of territory. There is an established tradition of mapping massacre sites through art, as in the acclaimed paintings by the Aboriginal artists Rover Thomas, Queenie McKenzie, and Rusty Peters, among others. Watson wanted viewers of her video to be aware that any map is a slippery, contested artifact, and also to have a bodily response to the work. She told me the story of one of her relatives, who, after viewing the video, turned to her in anguish, saying, “Where wasn’t there a massacre?””