Interviews, Native Americans and Memory

Post by EMP 510 Guest Bloggers Rodolfo Curiel and Kagat Mcquillen

“The American Indian Oral History Manual” draws several barriers that may arise when attempting to gather oral histories through interviews with Native Americans. Complexities arise as Native American understandings of narrative and memory do not facilitate the transfer of ‘data’ through the interview as a methodology. Just as Hugh Brody learns for himself the differing understandings of spatiality between himself and the Natives of British Columbia in “Maps and Dreams”, oral histories and other forms of traditional knowledge is concerned not only with the individual but the tribe and their ancestors. Memory and narrative together create a strong communal identity which dictates if, when and how some stories or knowledge is shared because the ownership of memory belongs to the community of ancestors.

The community benefits from the oral traditions as a means of transferring memories, personalities, and stories. Indigenous people who know cultural traditions or stories are valuable sources of history. Their brains function as historical archives, from the perspective of a local. Their first-hand experiences are stored, ready to be transferred to other community members or potentially to researchers. The history in brain archives are subject to disruption by outside sources. When a culture experiences a shock, such as abrupt land use accessibility change, oral histories fall by the way side, as the culture makes a shift. Furthermore, oral history is subject to falsities through time, space, and individuals. When memory becomes clouded and mixed, so do the dates, places, and faces associated with those memories.

The cultures that depend on oral traditions have developed strategies to accurately recollect information. Cultural memories are instilled in creation stories or other myths so that ancient or foreign information seems more relevant. Rules for telling stories or acting in oral tradition telling, become the indigenous style of knowledge transfer.