Decolonizing, Deconstructing, and Defending
How do we identify the situations in which history is being culturally appropriated versus the situations in which history has been decolonized? How can we avoid cultural appropriation? Indigenous histories are often undervalued, discouraging many Indigenous peoples from writing their stories. How can we, as students of history, create an inclusive atmosphere through our writings that encourage Indigenous peoples to share those stories? Over the course of November, we will explore different perspectives of Indigenous histories using the following discussion as a framework.
Researching the many and diverse groups of Indigenous peoples across the globe comes with many risks. Throughout history, European and Western scholars have made inaccurate statements about Indigenous cultures and peoples because of malice and ignorance. Their writings are seen as more legitimate than the opinions of Indigenous people merely because they are white colonizers and settlers. Indigenous authority, self-determination, and agency are ignored, and their ways of knowing are not acknowledged. Talking about Indigenous peoples and cultures is not enough; academics have to learn how to amplify Indigenous voices and let their counter-stories be the guiding force going forward in research.
As an example, we want to uncover examples of cultural appropriation in oral histories and how that negatively affects how Indigenous histories are portrayed. The oral histories of Indigenous peoples have often been seen as an illegitimate form of history by those who subscribe to the European tradition. There is a difference between how the European tradition views history and how Indigenous peoples understand and use their own oral history, but this difference does not invalidate the traditions of Indigenous peoples. For many Indigenous communities, oral history is prevalent in the strengthening of Indigenous identities and is viewed as a kind of living document that changes and transforms alongside them. The European settlers and their descendants, however, often viewed the oral histories of Indigenous peoples as stories rather than as true history. Often enough, European trained academics would ask Indigenous peoples to tell them their stories, record the stories, publish them, and then claim them as their own intellectual property . This was frequently done by Christian missionaries who would regularly miss the point of the stories or try to fit them into a Christian framework. Using the cultural traditions and stories of another people for your own personal gain, without even attempting to understand those traditions and stories, is the hallmark of cultural appropriation at its most self-serving and exploitive. The oral history of Indigenous peoples has often had to conform to the mainstream view both of what is considered to be history and what is considered to be oral history: it should, instead, be recognized as something that exists independently of the European tradition it conflicts with.
To have a truly decolonized conversation, historians must have the ability to respect and understand another author’s perspective. By revealing larger truths about ourselves and others, our writing becomes more self-aware and deepens the connections between the writer and the source. In order to decolonize our view of history, we have to invite Indigenous speakers to the classroom, and we have to bring down the structural barriers that many Indigenous people face. It is not enough to just include Indigenous authors, we need to be sure that the context and reciprocity of each community are understood and not stereotyped further. To do this, writers can reach out to local sources first and include historical scholarship from the perspective of each respective community. By breaking down Eurocentric knowledge structures, historians can emphasize collaboration and create an entirely new framework to study history with.
Mahuika, Nepia. Rethinking Oral History and Tradition: An Indigenous Perspective.
Oxford University Press, 2019.
Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing Methodologies : Research and Indigenous Peoples.
2nd edition. London: Zed Books, 2012.
Stoehr, C. M. (2019, July 15). Appropriation vs. incorporation: Indigenous content in the
Canadian history classroom. Active History. Retrieved November 1, 2022, from https://activehistory.ca/2019/07/appropriation-vs-incorporation-indigenous-content-in-the-canadian-history-classroom/