Marge Bruchac: Savage Kin – Indigenous Informants & American Anthropologists

In this provocative new book, Margaret M. Bruchac, an Indigenous anthropologist, turns the word savage on its head. Savage Kin explores the nature of the relationships between Indigenous informants such as Gladys Tantaquidgeon (Mohegan), Jesse Cornplanter (Seneca), and George Hunt (Tlingit), and early twentieth-century anthropological collectors such as Frank Speck, Arthur C. Parker, William N. Fenton, and Franz Boas.

This book reconceptualizes the intimate details of encounters with Native interlocutors who by turns inspired, facilitated, and resisted the anthropological enterprise. Like other texts focused on this era, Savage Kin features some of the elite white men credited with salvaging material that might otherwise have been lost. Unlike other texts, this book highlights the intellectual contributions and cultural strategies of unsung Indigenous informants without whom this research could never have taken place.

These bicultural partnerships transgressed social divides and blurred the roles of anthropologist/informant, relative/stranger, and collector/collected. Yet these stories were obscured by collecting practices that separated people from objects, objects from communities, and communities from stories. Bruchac’s decolonizing efforts include “reverse ethnography”—painstakingly tracking seemingly unidentifiable objects, misconstrued social relations, unpublished correspondence, and unattributed field notes—to recover this evidence. Those early encounters generated foundational knowledges that still affect Indigenous communities today.

This book also contains unexpected narratives of human and other-­than-human encounters—brilliant discoveries, lessons from ancestral spirits, prophetic warnings, powerful gifts, and personal tragedies—that Native and non-Native readers alike will find deeply moving.

Coming out in January 2018. Pre-order here! 

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Indigenous Peoples Day and the Cedar-Strip Canoe

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In 2015, I won an Adirondack cedar strip canoe at the Putney Grammar School Raffle, at the Strolling of the Heifers. The canoe was lovingly donated to the raffle by master craftsman and woodworker Parker Sterner, of Boulder Junction, Wisc., who has two grandsons at the Grammar School — Henry and Charlie. It is just amazing — he made it. It is not only a vessel; it is a work of art.

It is especially meaningful to me because I also went to the Grammar School, from 1988 to 1990. I loved the Grammar School. It was a place that nurtured my book-smart, outdoorsy, artsy spirit. It also set me on a path to become a scholar.

But, the cedar canoe connects us to another source of hope and meaning. Let me explain. I grew up in Brattleboro, but like many Brattleboro people, I always have been a traveler. This is one of the things that led me to become an anthropologist. Also, like many Brattleboro people, I always yearned to understand the history of Native American people of the area, on whose land we are living. So, I set out to do intense, focused study of this through doctoral research at McGill University, in Montreal, Quebec.

Read the full article by Jessica Dolan in the Brattleboro Reformer, photos by Jess also.

Dartmouth Senior Fellowship Project: Saving the Potawatomi Language

corinne kaspar dartmouth potawatomi eli burakian

Corinne Kasper ’17, who belongs to the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi tribe in southwestern Michigan, has been studying her native language since she was 13 years old. But fluent speakers and teachers of Potawatomi have been dwindling as English has become dominant. Kasper, a linguistics major, is developing teaching tools to help people learn or re-learn an endangered language that she sees as a cornerstone of her culture.

“This is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” says Kasper, who holds a Mellon Mays Fellowship. She’s one of five senior fellows who, recognized for academic excellence, are freed from classes in their final year to concentrate on a single project. The projects conducted by the senior fellows are funded by the Kaminsky Family Fund. Gerry Kaminsky ’61, who established the fund, was himself a senior fellow at Dartmouth.

For her thesis, Kasper is studying three similar languages: Potawatomi, Ojibwe, and Odawa. She’s doing something she says has not been done before: making a study guide about the formation and function of verbs. Potawatomi’s verb system is difficult for language learners to master, and she wants to make it easier.

Read this encouraging story by Charlotte Albright in the Dartmouth News. Photo by Eli Burakian.