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The Hinckley Journal of Politics

monument” (Presidential Proclamation, 2016) to imbue traditional land management strategies into national monument management. Significant epistemological goals set by the Coalition in their “Executive Summary” (2015) supplement this federally appointed protection. The Coalition has a remarkable objective of integrating “Traditional Knowledge into the monument’s land management practices and the creation of a world-class Bears Ears Traditional Knowledge Institute, where experts and lay people alike can learn from the rich intersection of Western and traditional Native views.” This epistemological objective is reflected in sacred spaces included in the original proposed monument area—specifically, the San Juan and Colorado River Confluence. Collaborative management protocol also reifies Traditional Knowledge, which I will explain later. Utah Diné Bikéyah, a non-profit organization developed by supporting members of the Inter-Tribal Coalition, offer two important facts about the San Juan and Colorado River Confluence at the original monument area’s southwest edge (2016). According to Utah Diné Bikéyah staff member Isobel Lingenfelter, the Diné Nation, or Navajo, remember this area as the place of their people’s emergence from the earth into humankind; second, that this area is uniquely remote in Utah. The archeological value of the site is unconfirmed, but the confluence has extreme importance according to tribal values. Ways of Knowing: Oral Stories and Oral Histories The Diné maintain the history of the confluence as a place of emergence through the oral stories tradition. Oral stories transmit historical accounts though word, typically from the memory of an elder to a younger audience. Oral stories are a unique medium unlike conventional contemporary literacy media. Information embodied in oral stories is not codified in writing, but in the identity of individuals who retain this knowledge, and ultimately their community and culture. Therefore, oral stories are foundational bricks in the edifice of cultural identity. Oral stories are a critical element to American Indian epistemologies and pedagogies, or American Indian ways of knowing and ways of learning. Navajos and many American Indian tribal nations deem specific places as sacred or otherwise significant based on information found in oral stories. According to Harris Francis and Klara Kelley in their book Navajo Sacred Places (1994), these places anchor the ways of Navajo life, the stories about the origins, and correct pursuit of those ways. The stories that go with these places, and with the mortals and immortals who have come together there, are a large part of Navajo chronicles of the origin and evolution of the Navajo world, people, and customs. These chronicles are Navajo “history” as Navajos themselves have told it from older to younger, first by word of mouth, now also in writing. (p. 2) Places like the mountains aren’t simply environments within tribal thought. Similarly, objects within an environment are not just things but subjects embodied by all oral stories associated with the referent places and subjects. Places in tribal epistemologies are characterized by the memories of people who inhabited the place before. Mountains, desert plateaus, creeks, rock formations, ancient dwellings, and biotic life alike in the Bears Ears region are defined by what they are now and what they were before. Oral stories preserve culturally significant information and philosophies, which deem land both sacred and

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animated by the past. Harris and Francis (1994) point out that oral stories are inherently valuable by virtue of their embodied medium. The prerequisite to an oral story is the memory of past events, places, and stories inherited from orators before, held in a person’s working knowledge. As such, oral stories are marked with a significance untranslatable into recorded mediums. Oral stories are only reproduced from orator to audience when the orator has a special relationship with their audience—a relationship in which the orator consents to deliver their histories to a specific audience. This evidences oral stories as a medium necessary to the traditional integrity of tribal epistemologies. Notwithstanding recorded mediums for historical inquiry, oral stories are legitimate knowledge sources critical to American Indian cultural pedagogies and epistemologies. In accordance with tribal epistemologies, oral stories maintained by tribal members are of equal historical significance as written, visual, and audio historical accounts. Orators consider many factors before oral stories are reproduced, especially for creating recorded histories, such as those found in Navajo Sacred Places (1994). The Oral History Association (2016) states that oral stories become oral histories when the stories are recorded in a visual and/or audio medium for the purpose of documenting memories and personal commentaries of historical significance. Before American Indian oral histories are recorded, deliberate consideration of who the information is being shared with, the place it is told, and the time in which the story is retold is necessary. One orator in Navajo Sacred Places (1994) is sure to acknowledge, “when I learned [the stories] I was told to keep them to myself until a year before I die. At that time I can give them to one of my grandsons. I cannot tell them to a white man” (p. 64). Another orator interjects amid an oral history recording that a more appropriate place to reproduce his story would be in a sweathouse (p. 68). These rules regarding the reproduction of oral stories indicates that a Navajo ethic-of-conduct is firmly encoded around the production of oral histories—that is, recorded oral histories may only be accessible to specific people even in their recorded form, just as oral stories are only shared with specific audiences. This moral framework distinguishes American Indian epistemologies from Euro-Western epistemologies dominant in the U.S. It is important to investigate the disparities between American Indian and Euro-Western epistemologies because the BENM proposal situates American Indian beliefs, values, and pedagogical traditions within a succinctly Euro-Western context: the U.S. federal governance system. Some conflicting beliefs about knowledge itself are at the foundation of divergence in American Indian and Euro-Western thinking. Brian Yazzie Burkhart in “What Coyote and Thales Can Teach Us: An Outline of American Indian Epistemology” (2004), points out that Euro-Western views “disallow the notion that there is some knowledge we should not have” (p. 18). This view contrasts the codes of conduct identified by Kelley and Francis (1994) that stories should not be told to some people and that people should not go to some places (p. 70). Native American epistemologies are bound to degrees of access—only certain people, if any, are allowed to acquire certain knowledge. EuroWestern epistemology differs greatly. According to Euro-Western epistemology, all knowledge should be able to be uncovered by anybody. Whereas Euro-Western epistemologies prioritize propositional knowledge, which is situated in rationale and justification, American Indian epistemologies are molded by non-propositional knowledge gained

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Hinckley Journal 2017  

The Hinckley Journal of Politics is the only undergraduate-run journal of politics in the nation and strives to publish scholarly papers of...

Hinckley Journal 2017  

The Hinckley Journal of Politics is the only undergraduate-run journal of politics in the nation and strives to publish scholarly papers of...

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