Conversing with some chickadees: Cautious Acts of Ontological Translation
This essay explores the challenges and the promise offered by the task of translation between Euroamerican and Native cosmologies, ontologies, and worldviews. It traces how insufficient hospitality toward Native cultures and a failure to examine the cosmological presuppositions of the white, Western, secular academy have resulted in the obfuscation or denigration of Native ways of being and knowing. Attempts to assimilate Native knowledge into Euroamerican concepts of religion, medicine, or culture have fallen short precisely because of the incommensurability of Western disciplinary formations with Native worldviews—worldviews that do not privilege subject-object relations or linear views of time. What is more, the very languages through which Native storytellers and Euroamerican scholars approach one another are freighted with assumptions about the validity of narrative and what makes an utterance “true.” Since Native ways of being are often expressed through story, Western scholars must interrogate their own assumptions about narrative and adopt, explicitly and self-consciously, a model of scholarship that embraces translation at the level not only of speech but also of ontology. Debating the legitimacy of indigenous ways of knowing is quite a different endeavor than deciding they are legitimate a priori and then figuring out how they relate, or don’t, to modern Western ways of thinking about the world. It is the latter task that remains urgent, in accordance with Sami scholar Rauna Kuokkanen’s ethic of hospitality, which requires a commitment to responsibility and openness toward the “other.” Her argument is that the Academy “cannot grasp or even hear views that are grounded in other epistemic [knowledge] conventions.” Furthermore, “Many indigenous people contend that notwithstanding its rhetoric of welcome and hospitality, the academy is not a good host . . . with only a weak commitment to indigenous people.” Her proposal is that scholars move beyond deliberating the terms of legitimacy, via comparisons between standards of truth, and instead innovate different philosophical and practical methodologies for regarding indigenous ways of seeing as intellectually and socially valuable. The argument here is that the form of hospitality she is calling for requires a deeper kind of cosmological interrogation by scholars; that is, a self-reflexive endeavor or inquiry into key charter myths and classificatory systems that makes translation between different worldviews possible.
SubjectsField of Research::16 - Studies in Human Society::1601 - Anthropology::160104 - Social and Cultural Anthropology
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