Monday, 13 February 2012

Tokenism and the Purpose of Academic Research on Indigenous Issues: More Questions than Answers

Where are we going??
At the beginning of this blog, I posted about some of the concerns I have on writing about indigenous issues because I am not indigenous. There are many pratfalls to be avoided in writing about indigenous issues as an outsider—at least in my mind. There is the need to avoid missionary zeal, the cloak of a rescuer, of suggesting that indigenous peoples lack a voice or that the voice of an outsider has more relevance, insight or knowledge. Some days I question whether it is appropriate to blog and research on indigenous issues at all, with those clouds of unease circling constantly. I try to be mindful of the pratfalls. There seems to be a surge in academic interest in indigenous issues. Is this a good thing? In many ways, I would think so, and yet that in itself perhaps comes laden with dangers and pratfalls. I wonder sometimes if indigenous issues have simply become a very fashionable subject for academic inquiry, in the way that other international law issues have come and gone based on the latest international instrument to be created or the latest political conundrum or conflict. The rise and fall in the popularity of topics no doubt could be traced around those parameters. At some point, something else will grab the collective attention of academia, researchers will swarm off to the next big topic, and indigenous issues will no longer perhaps have its current popularity.

But indigenous issues were around long before they became of interest in mainstream academia and no doubt they will be around long after. More to the point, indigenous peoples were around long before and will be around long after, and to what degree does academic inquiry and attention harm or help? Or does academic attention matter at all? It has been suggested in many places that the only people who read academic articles are other academics as they create their own articles—a sort of system of taking in each other’s washing. What is the value of academic writing on indigenous issues? What ought it strive to be?

To what extent should non-indigenous writing on indigenous issues be inclusive of indigenous voice? Does this simply become tokenism, or is it something that adds to the meaning and relevance of the work? Today, I have many questions, and not many answers.

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