The title of the conference was the “14th Inter-American Symposium on Ethnographic Research in Education.’ Initially, I was trying to figure out how “ethnography’ or “the study and systematic recording of human cultures,’ primarily through oral histories, mattered in my own home community and what I could take away from this experience to teach Alaska Native students. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the experience in my own tribe, the Hopi Tribe in Arizona, was less one of our own people doing oral histories on our own community, and more a long and famous history of outsiders, especially anthropologists, doing traditional anthropological fieldwork in our communities.
The early anthropologist (think 1800’s) were intrusive and disrespectful, but the later anthropologists and ethnographers, like Mischa Titiev, Peter Whitely, and Justin Richland, have had a beneficial and even symbiotic relationship with Hopi and Tewa families and communities. As many of you know, I serve as a tribal appellate justice for my tribe. The Hopi Appellate Courts are often called upon to decide questions of Hopi constitutional and custom law – this has often included referring to the very careful documentation of Mischa Titiev on the Village of Old Oraibi in the 1930’s, in addition to the introduction of traditional expert witnesses testimony from the villages. Later, Peter Whitely worked with the Village of Bacavi to undertake his own academic research, but he also committed his time to research and write a second book on the history of the village at the request of the village. Finally, anthropologist and lawyer, Justin Richland, also a dear friend and colleague of mine, sits as a fellow tribal justice on the Hopi Appellate Court, and also assists with the research and funding needs of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office. Consequently, I have really come to value both the training, skills, and work of my non-Hopi colleagues. They work with us on our priorities and we get great things done together.
All that said, one of the main threads of the El Paso conference was this idea of “(De)Coloniality.’ This concept comes from the work of Walter Mignolo and is described in his article “Geopolitics of Sensing and Knowing, On (De)Coloniality, Border Thinking, and Epistemic Disobedience.’ In order for me to make sense of the concept of decoloniality, I had to tether it to real life experience, and for me that took the form of judging on the Hopi high court.
Ultimately, applying Mignolo’s definitions to this experience immediately raised troubling possibilities. First, he defines “decoloniality’ and “border thinking/sensing/doing’ as an assertion that western democracy and socialism are not the only two models to orient our thinking and doing, but the communal is another option. At first, I am down with this — what is more communal than the Hopi matrilineages and village life. Then Mignolo defines his “border epistemology.’ He talks about delinking from, in our case capitalism and political economy, and suggests that we go to “the reservoir of the ways of life and modes of thinking that have been disqualified by Christian theology since the Renaissance.’ I think, o.k., can do, the Hopi clans have been doing their own thing for 10,000 years or so, we still live on our aboriginal homelands, and most Hopis when I was a kid were still fluent in Hopi, the ceremonies still go and there is still a strong sense of Hopi worldview, duties and obligations, and values. I read on. Then Mignolo says “There are two choices once you delink, you either accept the humiliation of being inferior to those who decided that you are inferior or you assimilate, and to assimilate means that you accepted your inferiority and [that you are] resigned to playing the game that is not yours, but that has been imposed upon you.’ I think whaatt??? … I spent years losing my Hopi accent, getting good grades, struggled through 4 plus years of culture shock and barely passing grades at Stanford, nearly killed myself getting through law school at Berkley, and now he is telling me NOT to assimilate??? What about my entire tribe that adopted the U.S. government’s boilerplate tribal constitution in 1936 and which has set up an elected tribal council with a western style adversarial tribal court system, with its written tribal codes and court opinions? Not to mention Indian boarding schools. And I am a tribal judge reinforcing this system – working with the colonizing anthropologists! Sure, the system may have once been imposed, but now they are our institutions and we are in control of them — we are in the driver’s seat. Then, I read the Mignolo’s third option — “border thinking.’ And I wonder, is that what we are doing at Hopi border thinking?
To hear my answer, you should attend our re-presentations at DANSRD later this semester — TBD. My revised presentation title is: “Dialogues (Other’s Research & Judicial Deliberations) & Decoloniality — with a question mark — in the Native Homelands (Others’ Borderlands) & Implications for Teaching Native Students.’ I really hope to see you there!