Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Yes, Grammar is Fun

When I am not translating from Swedish, I have a normal life focused around kids, cats and charitable works. One program which I participate in is called Futures for Children, where I am able to mentor a child on the Navajo reservation. Now of course, with that degree in historical linguistics in my background, the first things I acquired to enable me to be a better mentor were a dictionary and an elementary language text in Navajo, the excellent Dine Bizaad by Irvy W. Goossen.
I know not everyone reads grammar for fun, but I do. When I open the covers, I am in another world, one where the constructs of daily life as I know it disappear, and another world is glimpsed without even needing an airplane ticket. I began to wonder, as I delved into the spoken ways of the Navajo language, why those non-Natives of us in the United States and Canada are often so unaware of the Native languages which have been spoken here for millenia.
And from there I speculated: where are the literary works in Navajo? Is there a Native Navajo literature being created right now? And for that matter, how do we literati read Native cultures here? Besides some New Age believers who have appropriated Native religion, where is the general knowledge of the Native world view in our education and our bookshelves?
I began to think back to Waukegan, my hometown with a Potawatomi name. Where were the Potawatomis in our city, in our schools, in our world view? I began to research the issue and found out that the Potawatomis were exiled from Waukegan to Wisconsin in 1832 after the Black Hawk War, even though the Potawatomi people had sided with the Americans and tried to prevent the outbreak of this war in Eastern Illinois. So, one hundred and fifty-odd years later, the only Potawatomi word I learned in school was the name of my hometown, and no one living there knew where the Potawatomi people who had inhabited Waukegan had gone or why they were no longer in the place they had called home for centuries.
So, spending the week reading a Navajo grammar instruction book brought me back to the larger issues of literature and life and my place in the stream of peoples, languages, ideas and names. I might even become a better translator for it.


Liz said...

So relevant... have you seen the hoax information about Tim Barrus/"Nasdijj"?

Here's a link to the article. Actually I'll post this on the main blog later tonight.


Liz said...

er. http://www.laweekly.com/index.php?option=com_lawcontent&task=view&id=12468&Itemid=47

Simon Tapaha said...

Native American literature is alive and well, one just has to know where and how to find it. I work at Futures for Children as a Regional Coordinator. My name is Simon D. Tapaha, and I am from the Dine' Nation. I was born in Albuquerque and raised in Kirtland, New Mexico. My ancestors, gradparents, parents, and relatives originate from southeastern Utah; small communities named Red Mesa, Montezuma Creek, Aneth, and Bluff.

I received my Bachelor of Science in American Indian Studies from Arizona State University in 2005. This academic discipline was my true calling because I wanted to learn more about Native American history, culture, literature, art, music, government, and law. Through my studies and instruction from outstanding Native faculty, I may be able to provide some answers to your questions, "Where are the literary works in Navajo? Is there a Native Navajo literature being created right now? And for that matter, how do we literati read Native cultures here?" Lastly, you asked, "Where is the general knowledge of the Native world view in our education and our bookshelves?"

Q: Where are the literary works in Navajo?
A: One Navajo author who has published numerous works in English and Navajo is Irvin Morris. One of his publications include "From the Glittering World," stories from his life experiences. There are many traditional Navajo stories and teachings throughout this book. Another great Navajo author/poet is Luci Tapahonso. I have had the pleasrue of hearing her read from her variety of poems that incorporate Navajo teachings and stoires. These are just two of the many Navajo authors of literature.

Q: Is there a Native Navajo literature being created right now?How do we literati read Native cultures here?
A: In my opinion, I think a Navajo literature already exists and is being added to. Some authors are not well known yet, but I believe they are well on their way to making a name for themselves.
Rading Native culture is not black and white. We have special significance for almost everything we do in life. To understand these significances one has to have some knowledge of the respective Native language the literature is coming from. Read Native cultures with an open mind, patience, and sensitivity.

Q: Where is the general knowledge of the Native world view in our education and our bookshelves?
A: Until recently, Native worldviews were shunned from academia. Non-Native writers and scholars were interpreting Native worldviews. I think such people who have done this are Tony Hillerman, Ward Churchill, that idot who claimed to be Navajo and wrote stories of his "Navajo life experiences," etc... There are a wealth of Native authors/scholars who are truly giving a Native worldview. Such people include Angela Cavender Wilson and Devon Abbott Mihesuah, editors of "Indigenizing the Academy." This excellent book explains how Indigenous scholars incorporate Indigenous perspecitves into reseach methodologies, encourages Indigenous scholars to network with one another and also with non-Native scholars, and addresses the issues of what is needed academically in Indian Country. Another great book by an Indigenous author to help express a native worldview is Linda Tuhiwai Smith, author of "Decolonizing Methodologies." This book is similar to "Indigenizing the Academy," but the author addresses issues in her native homeland, New Zealand, and among her Maroi people.

I hope I have answered some of your questions. Please feel free to contact me if you have more questions.

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