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Heritage: Complexities within Indigenous Societies (A response to Chapters 5 & 6 in Brown’s Book)

October 11, 2010

This word heritage is one which people think they know the definition. A word that seems simple to define, but it turns out to be more complex than a road map of any major city. Yes, heritage has something to do with culture, but it also turns out that one’s definition of culture determines how the construction, and subsequent definition, of heritage begins to take shape. Starting to see its complexity? Chapter 5 and 6 are not so much about the theoretical concepts surrounding Indigenous issues rather giving examples of how Indigenous societies have challenged the dominant forces to at least make some “progress”. Because this section covers two examples of domination, I would like to pose quotes which will be followed by a question or two which we may or may not decide to cover in class.

Chapter 5

  • “What Native Americans do at the Medicine Wheel (in Sheridan, Wyoming) is not well documented. Given their recent turn to secrecy in matters of religion, detailed information is unlikely to emerge anytime soon” (pg. 146)
    • What can this “secrecy” be attributed to?
    • Is this due to oppression/stealing of pervious knowledge?
    • What is an unintended consequence? (I was thinking “offerings” of condoms or tampons at the Wheel)
  • “Rumors began to circulate in the 1950’s that the federal government wanted to move the stones to a more accessible place” (pg. 146-147).
    • Accessible for who?
    • How can this determination of accessibility be applied to a “digital space”?
      • What are the issues that arise with this?
  • (pg. 148-150) What issues arise from government’s “multiple use” policies?
  • With the examples of Devil’s Tower (pg. 150-156) and The Medicine Wheel …
    • Who owns Native Culture?
    • Taking it further, who really owns our ideas/creations even as “individuals”?
  • Is the “wise-use” method of multi-use land policies a better alternative? (Native spirituality/religion vs. Christianity for example … pg. 158)
  • Keeping in mind what the Friends of Devil’s Tower (pg. 159) & Francis Brown (pg. 160) said, what is the real issue of Devil’s Tower … and subsequently “Owning Native Culture”?


Chapter 6

  • This section covered some of the same issues as in Chapter 5, but this time involved more than just the simple one-2-one binary of Native vs. State. This case also surrounded the rising population of “hybrid” aboriginals in Australia.
  • The main similarity between these 2 chapters is this … as Ken Gelder and Jane Jacobs state (as quoted by Brown) “Public debate about an allegedly sacred site, ‘transforms that place into nothing less than a ‘site of significance,’ with such immense reach and such powers of affect that even the skeptics succumb to it.’ Which is a roundabout way of saying that intense public conflict may imbue places with a sacredness that they never before possessed” (pg. 204).
    • Thus …
    • What is heritage?
    •  For such complex words as “heritage”, “culture”, or “nature”, Raymond Williams says that the first thing people want to do is to define the word, but “while it may be possible to do this, more or less satisfactorily, with certain simple names of things and effects, it is not only impossible but irrelevant.” To Williams, what does matter is not the meaning but, “the history and complexity of the meanings” (pg. 67, Culture and Materialism, as paraphrased from 9/14/10 paper for AMST 590).
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