Sunday, 25 December 2011

Voice and Silence

Voice. Who has it? Who can speak? Who is silenced? Who is listening? These are all questions that circle around my mind, thinking of writing on a blog about indigenous issues. Who am I to write, think, speak on these issues, to add my own thoughts and ideas into the rich and vibrant discussion that has been steadily growing since the 1970’s?
I am, after all, not indigenous. I am in Wes Jackson’s words, one of the “descendants of those early beneficiaries of conquest”. I want to avoid the scenario that scholar Makua Matua addresses in his work on human rights, “Savages, Saviors and Victims.”

I do not know better than anyone, I do not want to be in the position of promoting rescue or salvation. Indigenous peoples are not victims in the sense of being powerless, in need of a benevolent non-indigenous hand to promote their aims and needs and to give them voice.
And thus it is a quandary on how to approach the work and discussion on indigenous peoples in this blog. Indigenous peoples are not a single uniform entity, but a wide variety of peoples across the world. Their various cultures are not frozen in time but evolve, change, and influence other cultures. Things such as essentialisation, stereotypes and tokenism are things to strive to avoid.

That is one part of the issue on voice. But there are larger issues, about indigenous peoples gaining voice and speaking out. There are issues as well on the implications of the silencing of when individuals, communities and peoples . The dynamics of silencing are discussed by Alexander, in their book “Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity” and is a worthwhile read.

A blog helps to break silence. It helps to bring discussion, attention, dialogue, questioning and focus on issues. A voice, anyone’s voice, added to the discussion, keeps silence and all of the dynamics it brings with it at bay. This is what I tell myself whilst struggling to avoid the pitfalls and traps that can come in engaging in the discussion—avoiding ideas of rescue, salvation, victims, stereotypes and frozen culture. Acknowledging that and with adding my own voice to the discussion with some careful hesitation, it is a delight to see this blog take off, and my thanks to Patricia for bringing this idea to fruition!

Witten by Sarah Sargent

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