Fieldwork today or cultural theft ?

Peter Keegan pkeegan at
Tue Feb 4 06:24:19 UTC 1997

kia ora,

As an indigenous person (who happens to also be a linguist) speaking an
endangered language (although my native tongue - learnt as a second
language) I feel only one side of the coin is being discussed. At the risk
of offending potential field workers & others, what follows is a view being
echoed by many indigenous groups around the World.

We Maori, here in Aotearoa (New Zealand), like many others have had a long
history of Non-Maori trying to describe & tell us how to speak our
language.  We are at stage were we insist that all research on Maori
(language or otherwise) should be by Maori for the benefit of Maori. If
non-Maori are research on Maori issues then they must abide by Maori terms.

A little way east across the Tasman sea is a placed called Australia. This
land like many others in our region was colonized by Europeans. The
treatment of Australia aboriginals by their colonizers was and still is
very inhumane and appalling by world standards.

Just when local Australian Aboriginal groups thought they had lost
everything, i.e.
land, freedom, humanity, employment, traditional food sources and ways of
life, along came Australian Linguists to steal their last remaining
cultural capital  - their languages.

Such linguistics thought (& still think) they had a God-given or
scientific-based right to research and record these rapidly disappearing
languages. Many such linguists have made careers on being experts on such
languages. What benefits did they local Australian Aboriginal groups gain
from such research ?   - if they were lucky they may have got their names
mentioned in the acknowledgements of a thesis.  In the meantime their
friendly Linguists travelled the world conference circuit and gained
international kudos, and employment in a well paying universities.

However, I do know of one (only one - there could be others) Australian
linguist who has given much of his time and personal resources to train
Melanisian linguists and assist them in researching their own languages.

Thoughts and comments appreciated.


Peter Keegan
(Ngati Porou, Waikato-Maniapoto)

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