Native American Oral Traditions: Collaboration and Interpretation

By Yocom, Margaret R. | Western Folklore, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Native American Oral Traditions: Collaboration and Interpretation


Yocom, Margaret R., Western Folklore


Native American Oral Traditions: Collaboration and Interpretation. Edited by Larry Evers and Barre Toelken. Foreword by John Miles Foley. (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2001. Pp. xvi + 242. $39.95 cloth, $19.95 paper)

In Native American Oral Traditions (NAOT), editors Larry Evers and Barre Toelken bring together the work of seven pairs of Native and non-Native collaborative writers from the western United States. Wanting to "publish essays that explore dimensions of perspective, discovery, and meaning which emerge when Native and non-Natives work together on oral texts," the editors propose that their work will serve as a "benchmark of the collaborative work that is being done with Native American communities at this time" (1, 4). Each chapter includes an oral narrative, usually in both the Native language and in English; a discussion of the narrative; and a consideration of the collaborative venture. Represented are traditions from the Yaqui, Tlingit, Lushootseed, Tohono O'odham, Atsuge-wi, Coos and Coquelle, and Yup'ik. Beyond providing a benchmark, this edition offers a first-rate collection of Native American tales and asks provocative questions important to all interested in oral narrative.

Major issues provide centers of discussion: What is collaboration? What forms does it take? How can researchers encourage more collaborations? Why and how do authors work collaboratively? How do cross-cultural partners navigate the rock-strewn waters of the collaborative way? How can the "insider/outsider" concept be reconfigured? How can partners enact collaboration in the texts they produce? How do cross-cultural partners accomplish the work of interpretation?

In their Introduction, Evers and Toelken discuss collaboration by offering a brief history of Native and non-Native joint projects, citing those that are and those that are not collaborative. Longtime co-authors Felipe S. Molina and Larry Evers propose ways for researchers to work collaboratively in the future. In "Like this it stays in your hands," they present a talk by Yoeme deer singer Miki Maaso and suggest that in community- and school-based bicultural/bilingual programs community-based American Indian intellectuals and university-based non-Native scholars can pursue collaborative work (29).

Since all the authors comment on their partnerships, NAOT offers a wealth of details on the collaborative venture. Darryl Babe Wilson of San Francisco State University writes of his labors to help preserve and present Susan Bradenstein Park's never-published fieldwork with his Atsugewi people done in 1920 when she was a brand-new Berkeley anthropology B.A. The limits of collaboration run like a subtext through the essay by Marya Moses and Toby C. S. Langen as they present a Snohomish story, but they do not discuss their challenges as fully as do others, such as the Dauenhauers.

Husband and wife team Nora Marks Dauenhauer and Richard Dauenhauer, in their article about their continuing search for variants of "Yuwan Gageets" (a rare Tlingit rendering of the Russian version of "The Frog Princess," AT402), explain how they divide their collaborative work.

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