Fieldwork today or cultural theft ? (part 4)

Peter Keegan pkeegan at
Thu Feb 6 21:15:41 UTC 1997

kia ora

It seems a number of linguists have "confessed" is this discussion to using
their hard won research on indigenous/endangered languages to gain
International kudos via the conference scene. What follows is an
"indigenous prospective" on how exploitative/degrading  this activity
really is. If you are offended easily or upset by my earlier postings -
read on own at your risk -

About 3 years ago New Zealand's Maori Language Commissioner, Professor
Timoti Karetu (a Maori) attended a conference on endangered languages in
Israel. He was astonished to find 2 other people (I think both North
Americans) also intended to talk about the Kohanga Reo (Maori language
early childhood schools) movement here in New Zealand.

When these 2 individuals found that a "Maori" from New Zealand was present,
1 suddenly left the conference, the other promptly changed the topic of her
paper. Quite frankly, we Maori were disgusted and offended that two-Non
Maori (I think both North Americans) would even dare to give papers on
topics they know little about.  Surely, we Maori are better informed to
talk about
the Kohanga Reo movement than Non-Maori.

At the same conference there were white Australians talking about the
situation of Australian Aboriginal languages. Who gave the white
Australians this right ?
Why where there no Australian Aboriginals at that conference? Do you think
educated Australian Aboriginals like having white Australians telling the
world about their languages and cultures? (perhaps this should read
misrepresenting their languages and cultures !)

(p.s. I am deeply saddened by personal email from Australians outlining how
institutional racism and hatred towards Australian Aboriginals is still
rampant in 1997)

Some people have mentioned that they are training indigenous linguists, and I
very much commend this activity, but will these trainers ever resign or step
from a high paying university position to allow an indigenous
linguist/academic to take their rightful position ?

Peter Keegan

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