Hidden Pitfalls of Recording Traditional Knowledge

Hidden Pitfalls of Recording Traditional Knowledge

"Always keep in mind our commitment of sharing cultural and spiritual information with the integrity entrusted to us."

Ruth Brass, Blackfoot

If you're going to talk, don't copy books. Our history wasn't written in books. I've seen a lot of books that they write and they say this is what happened. Some of them are not true, you know, and I've read them and then I tell them you know that these people write them to make money. And, we write them to encourage our younger people to understand and what our culture was about....

I think everybody has to realize, what you learn in books is good, but make sure that they are the truth, because you have people coming in, they say they know it all. Nobody knows it all. Because we were the ones that were here, we were the ones that were told what had happened.

It get into an argument with these writers - I personally know some writers that wrote books and I tell them - they get very upset with me, because I tell them, it's nice that you're doing this, but why don't you tell the truth. Because you're writing history and it's supposed to be truthful, not made up stories.

Kim Recalma-Clutesi, Kwak waka ‘wakw

"It's so hard to work to get the Elders' voice a safe place to have the trained Elders, to give them a safe place to correct people. They are scared. I've been privy to meetings when trained old people are present talking about how do we correct this, and they say that they are very scared because of the aggression of young people. And when we're talking about young people, we're talking about the forty, fifty, sixty year olds, the ones that haven't had training. And you know, young usually is synonymous with unskilled, untrained, still toddlers. And if that means toddlers in the cultural sense, that's what it means.

The whole system that was set up to validate and reinforce the voice of authority has really broken down. A lot of it has to do with the Indian Affairs designation of bands vs. tribes, because the band delineation, I hear people wanting to identify themselves by the Indian Act band, rather than their tribal grouping. You get real confusion when you're not dealing with your clans or your tribal grouping...You get people say, ‘I'm the only chief of this band, of this territory,' where there might be 19 clans.

If I can be so bold, there have been many mediocre academics and some of our people have made these mediocre academics, just by being inside our villages and by being informants to these people, front page people and in turn made peoples who haven't the standing and the ownership, they've made them on top of the world in terms of ethnographical material. And it's really difficult to undo that because our young people are learning about who they are in the academic world and through the texts and what they think are primary sources and now that we're having some of our really skilled people understand what is being written about our culture they are wanting to correct it.

It is essential that we record oral histories visually, and with audio. It's essential rather than the written word, but it has a lot of hidden pitfalls, hidden dangers, and problems with it, associated with it. And I don't think we've even begun to talk about postproduction, editing, and that's where many of the biggest problems come in. People deciding, who have not taken the time as you have here, we all feel really good, often times the editor's not here. And what I found most useful, and demanded, the last production I worked on, was that the editor be here, actually work here, show the traditional people how it unfolded. It takes a little more time, it costs a little more money but unless you have them understand what their obligation is, it becomes a conflict again about being a gatekeeper.


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