For the month of November, we at the Juvenile Instructor hosted indigenous history month. It was a bit of whirlwind with a lot of fantastic posts and content. A few of us thought we would have some thoughts about one or two posts that will change the way that we write about indigenous people in the future.
Amanda Hendrix-Komoto: One of my favorite posts was Farina’s on oral history and the politics of translation. In the post, Farina explores the conversation that was happening between translator, an elderly Navajo woman, and a Church history employee during an interview. Although the translator tries to capture what the woman is saying and to translate it accurately into English, Farina demonstrates that re-reading the Navajo section of the oral interviews provides an interesting glimpse into the mistranslations that occur as the translator is forced to slightly alter the meaning of questions to make them make sense in Navajo. Answers that appear incongruous suddenly make sense when the meaning of the question as it was asked in Navajo is considered.
Recently, I have been reading some oral histories in the Clinton Kanahele collection at BYU-Hawai’i. The oral histories are somewhat different than the ones that Farina mentions in her post. Kanahele began the interviews as a way to make a record of the Hawaiian language before it disappeared. Several of the interviewees mention the idea that they will not be able to proselytize in the afterlife to their Native Hawaiian relatives unless they can also speak Native Hawaiian. Kanahele was fluent in Native Hawaiian and as a result there is no translator. As you read the interviews, it becomes clear that Hawaiian isn’t everyone’s first language. Several of the interviews have to be reminded that they should be speaking in Hawaiian. As I read these oral histories alongside Farina’s post, it made me think about the politics of language and subtle changes in meaning that were occurring as people tried to express their ideas in a language that they may or may not have been completely fluent in. It also made me wonder if some of the ideas that they were expressing would have read differently if I have had been able to read Native Hawaiian myself. What types of mistranslations could have occurred as some – though definitely not all and perhaps not even a majority — of those interviewed translated a sentence or a word into Native Hawaiian from English in their head only to have it translated back into English at a later date by Kanahele or one of his assistants?
David G.: Overall, I was very pleased with the quantity and quality of this month’s theme, although my primary regret stems from our inability (despite our best efforts) to include more posts on Mormonism and indigenous histories in Latin America and the Pacific. The broader field of indigenous studies has benefited greatly from expanding beyond geographic borders to analyze all groups displaced by European exploration and conquest, bringing into dialogue Natives from Arizona with Natives from Australia. As the works by Matthew Kester and others have shown, Mormonism was inextricably tied up with European expansion, and the field would benefit greatly from more attention to these issues.
In 1985, Dialogue published a ground-breaking issue on Mormonism and Native Americans, featuring essays by Leonard Arrington, Eugene England, Chief Dan George, P. Jane Hafen, and others. The appearance of these articles coincided with the death of Spencer W. Kimball, the principal champion of the “Second Day of the Lamanite” in the second half of the twentieth century. The journal brought together Native and Non-Native voices, each bringing a distinct perspective on the church’s long and complicated history with indigenous peoples. Not to put anyone from Dialogue on the spot (or, for that matter, the Mormon Studies Review), but as the thirtieth anniversary of that issue appears on the horizon, this is an ideal time to reevaluate (in a medium more durable than a blog!) where things have come since 1985. Matthew Garrett‘s, Matthew Kester‘s, and Todd Compton‘s posts provided some important historiographical insights into the ways that Mormon and Native histories intersect that could form the core of such a reevaluation, while several posts from the past month could easily be expanded into full-length case studies.